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Palestinians ‘compromised on refugees’

on 11/01/2019

Palestinian negotiators accepted Israel’s proposal at the start of 2009 peace talks that it would only take in a fraction of the 1948 refugees, Al-Jazeera said, citing leaked documents.

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“On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take five million (the total estimated number of refugees), or indeed one million — that would mean the end of Israel,” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is quoted as saying at a March 24, 2009 meeting.

The documents showed then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had initially proposed only accepting 5,000 Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war that led to the creation of the state of Israel, over five years.

But Abbas, a 1948 refugee himself, rejected the offer as “not acceptable.”

Yet during a June 16 meeting that same year, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Olmert “accepted 1,000 refugees annually for the next 10 years,” for a total of 10,000.

According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, with which Al-Jazeera is “exclusively sharing” the 1,600 secret files, Palestinian officials accepted the 10,000 figure set by Israel.

The cache of documents, the first set of which was revealed by Al-Jazeera late Sunday, contains potentially damning revelations on the amount of land in annexed east Jerusalem that the Palestinians were willing to cede to Israel.

And the hundreds of papers, dating from 1999 onwards, also reveal that Israel gave the Palestinian leadership advance warning before it launched a devastating 22-day invasion of Gaza in December 2008.

The revelations have infuriated the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, already weakened by years of failure to win a peace deal with Israel and the deadly rout of its forces in Gaza in 2007 at the hands of Hamas.

Abbas, who heads the Western-backed Fatah movement, voiced astonishment at the leaks. And Erakat accused Al-Jazeera of a smear campaign, saying the documents were “out of context and contain lies.”

In an internal e-mail, Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit member Ziyad Clot said Erakat “decided to share our position on refugees very early in the negotiation process with the Israelis.”

“He was willing to show to the US the Palestinians’ serious intentions to engage on the core issues,” Al-Jazeera cited the message as saying, noting it blamed Abbas for making “an extremely low proposal for the number of returnees to Israel a few weeks only after the start of the process.”


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