The Palestinian Authority (PA) has launched a search operation to find the source of leaked confidential documents which revealed its cooperation with Israel.
The secret “Palestine Papers,” published on Sunday, disclosed the true nature of more than 10 years of secret US-backed negotiations between Israel and the PA.
According to the 1,600-page document, PA leaders were prepared to compromise on key issues at the heart of the six-decade old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the status of al-Quds (Jerusalem), deemed by Palestinians as the capital of their future state.
The documents have angered Palestinians, who blame PA leaders for privately preparing to compromise their principles while publicly presenting different positions.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the source of leaks appeared to be within the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) own Negotiations Affairs Department and that the intelligence agents have searched computer files at a support office for the Palestinian negotiators.
“The documents were linked to my office. We will have an investigation and I will be subject to the force of law,” Erekat said in Cairo following the revelation.
Ramallah has identified a number of suspects in connection with the disclosure, all of whom are former or standing members from the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit (NSU).
The UK-funded NSU has been the main advisory source for the PA in its negotiations with the Israeli side.
According to the high-ranking PA source, the main suspect in the leak case is Nazmi Bishara, the nephew of the Arab-Israeli parliament (Knesset) member Azmi Bishara, reports say.
Nazmi reportedly left the West Bank and is now working as an analyst for al-Jazeera news channel. He is one of the major critics of acting PA Chief Mahmoud Abbas and Erekat.
PA officials initially claimed that the leaked documents were outright fakes, but are now suggesting that they have been taken out of context.
“They probably are [real]. The question is how do you read them?” chief negotiator Nabil Shaath said, adding that only three papers were ever submitted to the Israeli negotiating team while the rest were all part of internal discussions only.
Shaath said the documents — published by the Qatar-based news network al-Jazeera — were all marked as “non-papers” and stamped with the disclaimer that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” adding that even if a full agreement is reached, that would be non-binding until it is put to a referendum.
According to the leaked documents, during the negotiations with Israel, the PA demanded the return of 10,000 refugees a year over a 10-year period and did not protest against Israel’s annexation of much of East al-Quds and proposed an international committee to take over Islamic and Jewish holy sites in al-Quds.
These highly-sensitive issues were non-negotiable in the past.
There are an estimated five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants who want to return to their homeland.