A Palestinian official yesterday accused Qatar of launching a campaign against President Mahmoud Abbas’s administration, saying documents released by Doha-based Al Jazeera television aimed to mislead.
In Ramallah, several dozen Abbas loyalists tried to break into Al Jazeera’s office, witnesses said, during a protest against the channel’s publication of leaked documents showing the Palestinians offered big concessions to Israel in peace talks.
The documents released on Sunday showed Abbas’s negotiators willing to give substantial ground on important issues at the heart of the decades-old conflict with Israel, such as the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
“Oh Jazeera, you are spies!” chanted the Abbas loyalists, mainly young men. They set fire to an Israeli flag with “Al Jazeera” written on it, witnesses said.
Abbas, speaking to journalists in Cairo, accused the television station of intentionally misleading viewers. “We say very clearly, we do not have secrets,” he said.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, said the emir of Qatar had “given a green light” for a campaign against the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. Qatar has close ties to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
Al Jazeera is sponsored by Doha, although the government denies it has direct control of the channel.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said “reports” had misrepresented the Palestinians’ positions and “statements and facts” had been taken out of context.
In a statement, he said negotiations with Israel had included discussion of some ideas that the Palestinians “could never agree to,” adding: “No agreement will be signed without the approval of the Palestinian people.”
Responding to the publication of the documents, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process said media commentary had conveyed “an inaccurate impression.”
“I can personally attest to the commitment of the Palestinian leadership to secure the legitimate rights and interests of the Palestinian people, based on international law and U.N. resolutions,” Robert Serry said.
Many of the documents date from the talks Palestinians held with the Israeli administration of Ehud Olmert in 2008. The talks ended in early 2009 when Olmert was forced from office over corruption allegations.
Palestinian commentators said many of the ideas outlined in minutes of meetings leaked to Al Jazeera were not new, partly explaining why public reaction among Palestinians appeared muted.
Yehya Musa, a Hamas leader based in Gaza, said the Al Jazeera leaks “did not add much to people’s belief in the treason of the negotiating team.”
Hamas opposes Abbas’s strategy of seeking to negotiate peace with Israel. Peace talks are at a standstill because of a dispute over Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a state.
It was not the first time Abbas’s administration had clashed with Al Jazeera, generally perceived as sympathetic to Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority banned the television channel in the West Bank in 2009 after it broadcast allegations by a senior Palestinian politician that Abbas had participated in a plot to assassinate Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Al Jazeera says the documents released on Sunday are the first batch of 1,600 it will disclose on the Middle East peace process.