January 24, 2011 / 1:33 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Leaks stoke Arab anger, show what peace deal needs

* Similar concessions discussed before -analysts

* Fate of Jerusalem, refugees seen as broader Arab issue

(Adds reaction from Jordanian professor, paragraphs 11-12)

By Edmund Blair

CAIRO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Leaked documents that show Palestinians made major concessions to Israel on occupied East Jerusalem have infuriated many Arabs who fear their rights to the holy city are being sold too cheaply.

Some Arab analysts said the documents, published by Al Jazeera television, did not differ markedly from offers discussed in previous peace talks over the years and showed the kind of concessions needed for any settlement.

But ordinary Arabs, many of them angered by their leaders who they feel are too ready to capitulate to U.S. and Israeli demands, still voiced fury about the content of leaks that touch on issues sensitive to many across the Middle East.

“Of course Mahmoud Abbas could have done this because he wants to deepen roots between him and Israel,” said Ismail Hussein, an Egyptian bank employee, saying such concessions would turn Palestinians against their president.

Another Egyptian, Salah Hasheesh, said: “If he did this, they are selling themselves cheaply.” But he also said the reports may have been concocted to undermine President Abbas.

The fate of East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967 and home to Muslim and Jewish holy sites, is seen by many as an Islamic not just Palestinian issue. The future of Palestinian refugees expelled from land in 1948 also has a broader impact.

“First, Jerusalem is an Islamic issue. Second, the refugees are an Arab issue because the Arab countries have a clear opinion, and want to know what the concessions are going to be, whether they can settle in their country or not, or when they can go back,” said Dubai-based Mustafa Alani.

Many Palestinians fled to Arab states after Israel was founded and many of their descendants still live as refugees.

One document quoted Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as telling an Israeli official: “It is no secret that ...we are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim in history.” He used the Hebrew word for Jerusalem.

CREDIBILITY

Equally infuriating to many Palestinians, who want to create a state on land Israel seized in a 1967 war, is the fact that Israel offered nothing in return for the concessions and turned down their offer, saying it did not go far enough.

“The leaks exposed the huge concessions that were made by the Palestinian negotiators, especially in Jerusalem and over the refugee issue,” said Ahmad Said Nofal, a politics professor.

“After these leaks I find that it will be difficult now for the Palestinian and Arab public opinion to trust this Palestinian leadership,” said Nofal from Jordan’s Yarmouk University.

Some analysts said the leaked documents were not so different from the starting point for peace negotiations over the years, and which Palestinians had publicly accepted as the principles for talks even if they expressed reservations.

Ezzedin Choukri-Fishere, a professor of international relations at the American University in Cairo and former Egyptian diplomat, said the Arab public tended to ignore the uncomfortable concessions that any peace settlement needed.

“If there is going to be a Palestinian peace agreement it is not going to fall far from the mark that appears in those leaks,” he said pointing to U.S.-sponsored talks, such as those in the Egyptian resort of Taba more than a decade ago.

The leaks might be “an opportunity for the official line and the public awareness to come a little bit closer,” he said, adding Abbas should use this to explain the concessions needed.

“If their approach is just denial and stonewalling then ... it will actually hurt their credibility and popularity.”

EMBARRASSMENT, NO THREAT

The Palestinian president denied offering secret concessions to Israel. Other Palestinians made similar remarks.

The leaks put Abbas in a tricky position as the statements they contain conflict with his public declarations about core issues, such as Jerusalem. In public, Abbas said as recently as last week that “there are no negotiations over Jerusalem”.

Al Jazeera said it had other documents it would publish showing Palestinians were ready to make big concessions on the sensitive issue of the right to return for Palestinian refugees.

Some Arab analysts said Abbas’ credibility could be hurt but said it was unlikely to bring him or his government down.

“The position of the PA is already weak regarding the negotiations among other things. The documents will only embarrass the government and officials but would not result in changes or shifts in positions,” said Imad Gad, an Egyptian analyst on Palestinian and Israeli affairs. (Additional reporting by Marwa Awad in Cairo, Martina Fuchs and Firouz Sedarat in Dubai and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Alastair Macdonald)

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