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Palestine papers: Will a big scoop change business as usual?

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"Abbas is in a very hot spot. He owes the Palestinians an explanation. We were under the impression that Abbas was sticking to the pillars of consensus,’’ said Bassem Ezbeidi, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University. "If it's 'yes,’ he is in trouble, if it's 'no,’ he has to show evidence. It’s a war between two narratives. The first one by Al Jazeera and the second one is the Palestinian Authority.’’

Driving that point home is the current design of the Al Jazeera homepage for the documents and commentary related to them. The visitor is greeted by a large picture of chief Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat next to a quote attributed to him from a 2008 meeting with then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. "We are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history," Mr. Erekat allegedly told her, using the Hebrew word for the holy city, as he promised to give away all but one Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem.

Ms. Livni's response? "We do not like this suggestion because it does not meet our demands, and probably it was not easy for you to think about it, but I really appreciate it." Livni said only an agreement to give up the remaining East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa and the settlements of Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel in the West Bank would be sufficient.

If true, the exchange is deeply embarrassing for Erekat, and also shows the practical impotence of Palestinian leaders in a peace dance in which they hold little of the leverage. Erekat and other senior Palestinian negotiators have been publicly adamant that ongoing construction in the East Jerusalem settlements makes a direct peace process impossible. How can that be squared with private assurances that they're willing to let them go?

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