A second cache of Palestinian documents released by Al- Jazeera on Monday night
showed Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his team, in Ramallah in June
2009, discussing the notion of 10,000 refugees and their families returning to
Israel as part of a final peace agreement, as ostensibly offered by former prime
minister Ehud Olmert.
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In a dramatic comment on the refugee issue,
furthermore, at an internal meeting that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had with the
Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit on March 29, 2008, Abbas said, “On numbers
of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or even 1 million
– that would mean the end of Israel.
They said 5,000 over five
That is even less than family reunification and it is
There also has to be compensation, which has to come from
the Absentee Property fund.”
Both Al-Jazeera and Britain’s Guardian
newspaper put a decisively negative spin on the story, with the Guardian
website headline reading “Papers reveal how Palestinian leaders gave up fight
The refugee issue has emerged as one of the major
obstacles to any agreement.
In a meeting on January 27, 2008, soon after
the Annapolis conference, Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei implied a readiness
to solve the issue and said that if the Arab countries would “be part of the
solution, there will be no problem in this issue.”
He added that the
Palestinians could coordinate the matter with Jordan and even
“Even the Syrians want to be part of the process,” Qurei said,
“and they don’t want to sit with you to discuss the matter, but with
Erekat quipped at the meeting, “Whoever will be able to reach an
agreement to solve this conflict will be the most important figure in the region
after Jesus Christ!”
Also, according to the Guardian
piece based on the
documents, then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni – essentially adopting an idea put
forth by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – proposed a land swap that would
place some Arab towns now in Israel into a future Palestinian state in exchange
for placing some settlements within Israel.
Then-US secretary of state
Condoleezza Rice, according to the paper, suggested that some Palestinian
refugees could be resettled in South America – for example, in Chile and
Argentina.Ma'aleh Adumim bone of contention with Palestinians
In documents released Sunday night, it became clear that while
much of the Israeli public believed that Ma’aleh Adumim was part of the Israeli
consensus and would be part of Israel in any agreement, this was a major bone of
contention with the Palestinians.
The first batch of documents showed
Palestinian insistence that the large settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel
become part of a Palestinian state, even if it meant the settlers remained there
under Palestinian sovereignty
. While at first Livni said this was an interesting
idea she would have to think about, a few weeks later she said it was completely
unrealistic because the settlers would be killed.
In a meeting at the
King David Hotel on May 4, 2008, between Livni and Qurei, the latter said
Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Har Homa and Ariel “cannot be included in a swap
under any condition.”
This was Qurei’s position even as the Palestinians
indicated they were ready for Israel to annex the Jewish neighborhoods in
Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, with the exception of Har Homa.
documents show that the Palestinians see the 1967 lines as a baseline, and view
an agreement to a land swap for land that will be annexed to Israel as a
concession. The Palestinian position, as laid out in the meeting, was that any
land swap needed to be in the same area, meaning that if Israel annexed a
Jerusalem neighborhood beyond the Green Line, it would have to give up land in
the Jerusalem area in return.
When it became clear during the discussion
that the PA position was that the settlers in Ma’aleh Adumim did not have to be
evacuated, PLO chief negotiator Erekat said to Livni, “Can you imagine that you
accept for the sake of peace to have Jews as citizens with full rights in
Palestine like Arab Israelis?” Livni replied, “But how can I provide Israelis
living in Palestine with security?” To which Erekat responded, “Can you imagine
that I have changed my DNA and accepted a situation in which Jews become
citizens having the rights that I and my wife have. Can you imagine that this
will happen one day?” One of the Israeli negotiators in the room, Udi Dekel,
then interjected, “I do not have such fancy.”
Livni, however, was more
diplomatic. “I have to think about this. I do not know.
You have proposed
something, but I believe we have to be creative. My problem is that of security.
Some said to me that there would be violence among my people if I evacuated them
[from the settlements], but the pressure will be less if I give the right to
choose. I cannot bear the responsibility of their life in case they are exposed
to danger and then the army will have to interfere.
It is a legitimate
question but we need to think about it.”
The issue came up again some
three weeks later, in which Qurei said that the Jews in Ma’aleh Adumim “can live
under Palestinian rule,” to which Livni replied, “You know this is not
Qurei then said, “So take them [out], like you did in Gaza.”
To which Livni responded, “We are going to [take out many
Later in the discussion Qurei said he didn’t mind if the
Israelis became Palestinian citizens, to which Livni replied, “You know this is
not realistic. They will kill them the next day.”
At a meeting in
mid-June 2008 between Livni, Qurei and Rice, Livni asked Qurei whether his
problem with Ma’aleh Adumim was because of its size or location.
reply was that it blocked Jerusalem from the east, and that Jerusalem was
already blocked from the south.
“Perhaps Ma’aleh Adumim will remain under
Palestinian sovereignty and it could be a model for cooperation and
coexistence,” he said.
“We may also have international forces and make
security arrangements for some time. It is the location of Ma’aleh Adumim [that
is the problem], not its size.”Qurei: Ariel set up to control water basin
The problem with Ariel, he said, was that
it “was set up on the largest water basin. It was not set up simply to provide
Israelis with housing units, but rather to control the water basin.” Livni
replied, “The idea behind our desire to annex Ariel settlement was not to get
more water but because thousands of people live there. We want to have an answer
for those who have lived there for 40 years.”
Rice, at a meeting held a
month later, said that no Israeli leader would cede Ma’aleh Adumim, and that if
the Palestinians insisted on the matter, “then you won’t have a state!”
the publication of the documents created a storm in the Palestinian Authority
Monday, the official response in Jerusalem was muted, with both the Foreign
Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office declining comment on the
Only Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman related to the documents
at all, saying in an Israel Radio interview that the documents showed that even
“the most left wing” Israeli government of Livni and Ehud Olmert could not reach
an agreement with the PA.
“I think they show that if the government of
Olmert and Tzipi Livni did not succeed in coming to an agreement with the
Palestinians, then that is a sign that everyone will in the end reach the
conclusion that the only way is a long term interim
Lieberman’s position is that a final agreement at this time
is impossible, and that the goal at this time should be a long-term interim
He also said it was “interesting” that Livni proposed his land
swap idea of Arab towns for settlements.
Livni’s associates responded to
the new report by stating that during the talks, only four Israeli Arab border
towns were raised as possibilities to be included in a Palestinian state, even
though they are on the Israeli side.
They said that when the Palestinians
rejected the idea, the talks moved on.
Sources close to Livni also said
that during the talks she made a statement rejecting the application of
international law, but said she was inaccurately quoted in the
document.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.