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Palestinian leaders deny offering major concessions to Israel

They reject an Al Jazeera report that cites leaked memos suggesting Palestinian leaders were ready to cede most of East Jerusalem and limit the right of return for refugees to make a peace deal.

January 23, 2011|By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Jerusalem — Palestinian leaders Sunday rejected a report by Al Jazeera television network that they had agreed in 2008 to cede most of disputed East Jerusalem and to make other major concessions in an unsuccessful bid to win statehood.

Citing documents that it called the "Palestine Papers," the Arab television outlet quoted minutes from a Jan. 15, 2008, meeting involving then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Korei.

"We proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim [Har Homa]," Korei is quoted as saying. "This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition. We refused to do so in Camp David."

Such a concession, if true, might have represented a breakthrough in one of the thorniest issues of Middle East peace talks. Palestinians have publicly insisted that they receive control of East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in 1967 and which they seek to make the capital of their new state.

Al Jazeera said the documents also revealed that Palestinians were willing to divide the Old City, limit the return of Palestinian refugees to 100,000 people and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

At the same time, they seemed to show Palestinian negotiators driving a hard line on West Bank settlements, insisting that several large Jewish settlements, including Maale Adumim and Ariel, be abandoned.

Palestinian leaders quickly dismissed the Al Jazeera report as inaccurate, saying the documents were false, taken out of context or reflected preliminary negotiations, not final offers. They insisted that they continue to press for control of East Jerusalem.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the report "a pack of lies."

In an interview on Al Jazeera television Sunday, he said, "We have not gone back on our position. If we had given ground on the refugees and made such concessions, why hasn't Israel agreed to sign a peace accord?"

He accused Israel of leaking the documents in a bid to embarrass Palestinians.

If accurate, the documents suggest that Palestinians have been far more open to making big compromises than they have revealed publicly or than they have been portrayed by Israelis.

But such compromises could open Palestinian Authority officials to criticism from the Palestinian public. Polls show that Palestinians oppose making concessions on key issues such as East Jerusalem and the return of refugees.

Hamas, the rival Palestinian group that controls Gaza Strip, jumped on the Al Jazeera report, accusing the Palestinian Authority of "liquidating" the Palestinian cause, Reuters news agency reported.

The alleged offers took place during a round of 2008 negotiations that many believe came close to achieving a deal. Israelis have previously insisted that they were the ones who made generous offers to Palestinians, but that Palestinians turned them down.

Palestinians and U.S. officials have said that talks broke down before they reached fruition, in part due to the impending collapse of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government and Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip in December 2008.

Israeli officials did not respond Sunday to the report.

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

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