Palestinians vent anger at Qatar, Al-Jazeera
RAMALLAH, West Bank – A senior Palestinian official condemned Qatar-based Al-Jazeera on Monday and a crowd of protesters vandalized the satellite channel's West Bank headquarters after it reported on leaked documents that claimed Palestinian leaders offered large concessions in peace talks with Israel in 2008.
The angry outburst followed the airing late Sunday of what Al-Jazeera said were internal Palestinian documents showing that Palestinian leaders had offered broad concessions on two of the thorniest issues in negotiations with Israel: Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told reporters on Monday the news network engaged in "media games ... to trick and mislead the simple citizen." He angrily accused the Gulf state of Qatar, which bankrolls the station, of damaging Palestinian interests.
"What Al-Jazeera is doing today is an attempt to distort the national position of the Palestinian leadership," he said.
Abed Rabbo said the report relied on out-of-context quotes, insinuations and outright fabrications.
Comparing the program to WikiLeaks, which he said merely publishes leaked documents, he said Al-Jazeera could "draw conclusions, counterfeit documents and change texts, cut a word here and there and put together images of people with no relationship to negotiations."
He added: "This is what serves Al-Jazeera's prior position."
He also took aim at the emir of Qatar, calling the program "a political campaign of the first degree" coming from "a political decision at the highest level from our brother in Qatar."
The Qatari government bankrolled Al-Jazeera when it launched in 1996 and is believed to still fund the station.
Ultimate authority in Qatar — and at Al-Jazeera — rests with the hereditary emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. However, Al-Jazeera has long operated with considerable editorial freedom compared with other government-run media outlets in the Arab world.
The company is chaired by Sheik Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, a member of the emir's extended family.
While Abed Rabbo dismissed the documents in general, he remained vague in disputing some of the program's specific claims.
He said the West Bank's Palestinian Authority would take no steps against local Al-Jazeera correspondents.
The Palestinians seek an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a capital in east Jerusalem — all territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
While Palestinian leaders have indicated some flexibility on borders and other issues, many Palestinians remain opposed to any concessions, believing that Israel has already taken too much land Palestinians consider theirs.
The show's claims were embraced by the rival Hamas, the Islamist movement that seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, leaving Abbas governing only in the West Bank. Hamas refuses all negotiation with Israel.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Monday the documents "reveal the close collaboration with (Israel), and reflects its role in trying to kill off the Palestinian cause."
Late Monday in Ramallah, about 250 Abbas loyalists rallied in support of the president in front of the building housing the local Al-Jazeera office.
A small group climbed the stairs to the station's offices, where they broke security cameras, glass door panels and station logos. Wall graffiti read "Al-Jazeera are spies" and "Al-Jazeera equals Israel."
Palestinian police removed the violent protesters and prevented the larger crowed outside the building from entering.
This is not Al-Jazeera's first dustup with the Palestinian Authority.
It temporarily shut down the station's West Bank operations in 2009 after a talk show guest claimed that Abbas played a role in the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat, the former president and revered founder of the Palestinian national movement.
Associated Press writers Dalia Nammari in Ramallah, West Bank, and Adam Schreck, in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.