Al Jazeera has obtained more than 1,600 internal documents from a decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s chief negotiator, has resigned from his post, after it emerged that the source of the Palestine Papers leak was in his own office.
The decision was announced on Saturday, at the same time as a Palestinian Authority (PA) official announced that the body would be holding presidential and legislative elections before September this year.
Erekat said his resignation came as a result of an internal investigation into the Palestine Papers, a set of leaked documents that was released by Al Jazeera.
Erekat, who has retained his position in the PLO’s executive committee, said the investigation showed that the papers were leaked from the Negotiations Support Unit, which he heads.
Earlier, he had said he would bear all responsibility if any security breach was found in his office.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, welcomed the resignation, saying that negotiations led by Erekat had not been “in the national interest”.
Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry in Ramallah said that there was a feeling among Palestinians that the peace process was at an impasse.
“There is clearly a feeling here on the ground that the peace process has broken down, that there is no more point in negotiating unless the Israelis are willing to bring more to the table,” he said.
On the matter of Erekat’s successor, he said that his sources were saying “there’s no point. Why would we have a chief negotiator if there are no negotiations?”
Hanan Ashrawi, who is on the PLO’s Executive Committee, told Al Jazeera that the peace talks were in trouble long before the Palestine Papers were released.
“There has not been a [peace] process. There have been sporadic attempts by the Americans to replace substance and objectives with negotiations, as though that was the end.
“We said no to that; either you make Israel comply to the freeze and stop all settlements and you articulate the objectives and the terms of reference [of the negotiations] with in a specific time frame, or there is no use of entering into an endless process which Israel exploits in order to create facts on the ground and to annex East Jerusalem,” Ashrawi said.
The news of Erekat’s resignation almost overshadowed the PA’s election announcement.
“The Palestinian leadership decided to hold presidential and legislative elections before September,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, said.
Rabbo said the PA was urging all sides to “put their differences aside”, in a reference to the West Bank-based government’s rival Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has rejected the call for elections.
“They cannot do an election in the West Bank, leaving Gaza. Without internal Palestinian reconciliation, nothing can happen here or there. The people who are supporting Hamas in the West Bank are representing the majority of the Palestinian people, and they will not participate,” Hamas’ Zahar told Al Jazeera.
“Hamas will not take part in this election. We will not give it legitimacy. And we will not recognise the results,” Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, told the Reuters news agency.
He termed the process “invalid”, saying that Abbas had “no legitimacy and is not fit to organise such elections”.
Members of the PLO executive committee said they saw the elections as an opportunity to end divisions.
Bassam Salhi, a member of the Palestinian People’s Party, said that whoever gains a majority after the elections will be empowered to make decisions on unresolved issues, including security.
Al Jazeera’s Perry said there was “hope [that] by September they can mend those bridges and go forward with the elections”.
He added, however, that even local elections that were due to be held on July 9th were currently shrouded in uncertainty, as Hamas does not believe that those polls will be free and fair.
Announcing his resignation on Saturday, Erekat said that he was assuming “responsibility for the theft of [the] documents from his office”, which he claimed had been “deliberately” tampered with.
Last month, Erekat accused Al Jazeera of taking part in a campaign to overthrow the PA after more than 1,600 confidential files on the negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli officials were made public by the network.
The documents, shared by Al Jazeera with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, exposed concessions to Israel in 10 years of secret peace talks, embarrassing and angering the PA leadership.
At the time, Erekat accused Al Jazeera of attempting to discredit the peace process and provoke people into “a revolution against their leaders in order to bring down the Palestinian political system”.
He insisted that the PA’s position on Jerusalem, refugees and borders during peace negotiations was based on internationally recognised principles.
Responding to news of the resignation, PJ Crowley, the US state department’s spokesman, said the matter was an internal Palestinian issue, and that the US would continue to work with the PLO.
“Our objective remains the same: to seek a framework agreement on the core issues and to achieve a two-state solution,” he said.