Palestinian reactions to explosive Al Jazeera revelations vary

Jerusalem–On Sunday, Qatar-based satellite news channel Al Jazeera published hundreds of confidential documents pertaining to suspended peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Palestinian reactions to the leaks–which revealed that the PA had been prepared to make unprecedented concessions on the thorny issue of Jerusalem–have varied widely.

After Al Jazeera first broadcast news of the leaks, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said he didn’t know the source of the documents. He insisted, however, that his fellow Arab leaders had been kept fully apprised of all developments related to the talks.

Yasser Abd Rabbo, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Executive Committee, held a press conference on Monday at which he lambasted Qatar and its foreign minister, who is closely linked to Al Jazeera. Speaking to Palestinian journalists, Abd Rabbo threatened to reveal Qatar’s alleged covert relations with both Israel and Iran.

Nevertheless, the source of the leaks remains undetermined.

Some have speculated that they came from within the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department. There have also been rumors that suspended Fatah Central Committee member Mohammad Dahlan–who held the Central Committee’s media portfolio–may have played a role in the affair.

Nasser al-Qudwa, Fatah Central Committee member and PA Foreign Minister (and nephew of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat), said: “I cannot make any comment [about the leaks].  I hadn’t seen anything…Yes, I saw the Al Jazeera report last night, but that’s not enough.”

Mahdi Abdel Hadi, a Jerusalem-based researcher who heads the Palestinian Society for the Study of International Affairs, said: “While people are aware and know what’s happening, what is shocking about the Al Jazeera leaks is that they confirm their suspicions about their leaders … about their representatives and their political agendas. They also show the emptiness of the political system in Palestine and the weak leadership.” 

But the deepest disappointment, according to Abdel Hadi, is “how people were carried away with the tide of negotiations, without realizing where they were heading and without understanding that they have no power or authority.”

“Though they are angry and disappointed, like the people in Tunisia and Jordan [where protests were staged on Monday over rising bread prices], the Palestinian street today is not revolting because of cantonization, bantustanization and [Israeli-imposed] closures,” Abdel Hadi added. “Because 6,000 people are in prison and there is no leadership.”

Jerusalem resident and veteran journalist Hanna Siniora said on Monday: “I believe this is being done to undermine the moderate Palestinian leadership.” She added that “everything is being discussed in the negotiations–settlements, Jerusalem, borders and land swaps,” but pointed out that much recent reporting on these issues was inaccurate. “For example, I heard a report that the PA was offering a 6.5-percent land swap, when in fact it was Israel that had done so, while the PA offered only 1.9 percent.”

“One source that might be trying to weaken the present moderate government is the current Israeli regime, which had access to part of the documents released by Al Jazeera,” Siniora said. “The Palestinians have been making inroads and [Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman is trying to undermine them–and Al Jazeera is collaborating in this.” 

On Monday, a small demonstration was held in Ramallah’s central Manara Square. Protesters carried signs denouncing Al Jazeera, chanting, “Al-Jazeera equals Zionism,” and “Al Jazeera is collaborating with [Israeli internal security agency] Shabak.”

The small group of demonstrators attempted to enter Al Jazeera’s local office, but “Palestinian police managed to calm them down,” reported one journalist at the scene.

According to the journalist, the local Al Jazeera staff had been fearful of the Palestinian reaction to the leaks. “They were expecting it, and although they were afraid of an even harsher reaction, they are now afraid for their lives,” he said.

While Al Jazeera’s local bureau and staff have frequently been threatened with sanctions by both the Israeli government and the PA, this represents the first time that they have actually expressed fear for their personal safety.

Local Al Jazeera staff distanced themselves from the revelations, saying they had come from Al Jazeera’s Doha headquarters and not from the local office.

According to media sources close to the issue, only a small circle of staff members knew about the leaks before they were broadcast. They also believe that other documents–perhaps from the Israelis–might also be revealed on air, since the program is scheduled to continue for several more days this week. 

Many outside experts, by contrast, had clearly been given advance copies of some of the revealed material, and their commentaries were ready immediately after the first part of the Al-Jazeera program was broadcast on Sunday night.

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