Release of Confidential Papers Complicates Mideast Peace Process

The US State Department has acknowledged that the release of the ‘Palestine Papers’ by the Arab news channel ‘al-Jazeera’ would complicate American efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. However, a State Department spokesman said the publication of 1,600 confidential Palestinian documents on the negotiations with Israel would not slow the Obama administration’s work toward that goal. “We don’t deny that this release will, at least for a time, make the situation more difficult than it already was,” P.J. Crowley was quoted as saying.

The documents – which outline Palestinian willingness to make concessions on Jerusalem and other final status issues – cover the period of negotiations between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Abbas and other Palestinian officials have challenged the veracity of some of the documents.

In fresh revelations on Monday, 'al-Jazeera' reported that millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants who today live in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan might not be allowed to return to what is today the State of Israel, or vote on a future peace deal with Israel. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reportedly told Belgium’s foreign minister in March 2007: “I never said the diaspora will vote [on a future peace deal]. It’s not going to happen. The referendum will be for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Can’t do it in Lebanon. Can’t do it in Jordan.” On Sunday, Erekat had already reacted angrily to the reports by ‘al-Jazeera’, dismissing the documents as "a bunch of lies."

The fate of Palestinian refugees is regarded as one of the core issues of the Middle East conflict. Palestinian leaders have always insisted that the refugees and their descendants have a right to return to their homes in present-day Israel, though most diplomats and officials believe that some form of compromise is ultimately required.

Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group which runs the Gaza Strip, said the documents revealed the Palestinian Authority's role in "attempting to liquidate the Palestinian cause." In Ramallah, the protestors burned an 'al-Jazeera' logo and looted the TV channel's offices, in protest against the recent publications. The demonstrators carried signs comparing 'al Jazeera' to Israel and denounced the network for dividing the Arab people.

Meanwhile, it has also been reported that Palestinian negotiators privately accepted Israel's demand to define itself as a Jewish state. While Palestinian leaders have publicly rejected any such definition of Israel, Erekat was said to have told Tzipi Livni, then Israeli foreign minister in November 2007: "If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want.”

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