BRUSSELS — Israel agreed to absorb 200,000 Palestinian refugees in its territory during the latter half of 2000, a former Palestinian security official and negotiator told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Mohammed Dahlan, the former leader of Fatah in the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian negotiator under Yasser Arafat, said that the Israeli position was put forth in the period between the failed Camp David peace summit in July 2000 and the presentation of the Clinton Parameters for a final status agreement in December of the same year.

Dahlan — who has been living in Dubai for the past two years — was in Brussels speaking to members of the European Parliament as the guest of Mário David, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament and the vice president of the European People’s Party.

He told the parliament that the Clinton Parameters for a final status agreement still comprise “the best document for any conceivable solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We have a document that wasn’t entirely agreed upon, but is something we can build on for the future,” he said.

‘If anyone believes the Palestinians and the Israelis can sign a peace agreement without pressure or protection from the Arab world and from the EU, he is mistaken’

Israeli governments have consistently refused to accede to the demand of Palestinian refugees and their descendants that they be allowed to settle within the State of Israel under a permanent status agreement. Meanwhile, most Palestinians consider “the right of return” to be a nonnegotiable issue. The Arab League has adopted a formula stating that the solution to the refugee issue must be both “just” and “agreed upon,” an allusion to the need for Israeli consent for any refugee deal.

Through his parameters, former US president Bill Clinton attempted to convince Palestinians to forgo their demand for a massive influx of refugees to Israel in exchange for partial Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem’s Old City. Dahlan’s statements, however, were the first report of such far-reaching Israeli concessions on the question of refugees during the tenure of Ehud Barak.

Documents leaked by Al-Jazeera in 2011 revealed that former prime minister Ehud Olmert agreed during talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in August 2008 that Israel would absorb 5,000 Palestinians over a five-year period, “on a humanitarian basis.”

Former Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin told The Times of Israel in March that the gap between Israel and the Palestinians on the refugee issue was indeed large in 2008, with the Palestinians demanding that Israel accept 100,000 refugees, but “not unbridgeable.”

Tacitly criticizing PA corruption under Abbas, Dahlan called on European parliamentarians to be more diligent in overseeing where their aid euros go

Formerly the most powerful PA official in Gaza, Dahlan has become a bitter rival of Abbas, whom he blames for the 2007 takeover of Gaza by Hamas, and whom he accuses of financial corruption. Dahlan’s Fatah membership was revoked by the party’s Central Committee in December 2010 following charges that he had tried to orchestrate a coup against Abbas in the West Bank.

Dahlan launched a scathing attack on Abbas in his presentation to European parliamentarians, saying that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is able to make peace but doesn’t want to, while Mahmoud Abbas wants to but lacks the political legitimacy to produce an agreement.

He characterized expectations by US Secretary of State John Kerry of reaching a comprehensive deal within nine months naive and “based on emotions rather than on a realistic assessment of the negotiating sides.” He said the current round of peace talks had “zero chance of success.”

The only possible solution, Dahlan opined, is the imposition of an agreement on both sides from without; with the United States pressuring Israel to compromise and the Arab League doing the same on the Palestinian side.

“If anyone believes the Palestinians and the Israelis can sign a peace agreement without pressure or protection from the Arab world and from the EU, he is mistaken,” Dahlan said. He claimed that both Barak and Netanyahu had personally confided in him that Israel could never sign an agreement without American pressure.

In the absence of a credible, legitimate Palestinian negotiator, Dahlan concluded, Kerry’s peace efforts are nothing more than an attempt to fill the political void with ‘an exercise in deception’

“As for us the Palestinians, never can a leader sign an agreement with the Israelis without the protection and support of all moderate Arab states, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Never, neither in Arafat’s time nor in Abu Mazen’s (Abbas’s) time nor at any time in the future.”

Tacitly criticizing PA corruption under Abbas, Dahlan called on European parliamentarians to be more diligent in overseeing where their aid euros go. The Palestinian Authority, he noted, is currently an “imaginary entity” being kept alive artificially by donor aid which it distributes as salaries.

Dahlan also blasted Abbas’s inability to draw support from Palestinians disenchanted with Hamas’s six-year rule in the Gaza Strip.

Mohammed Dahlan in 2006. (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Mohammed Dahlan in 2006. (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)

“Unfortunately, Abbas has so far not created an alternative for the Palestinian public to win over those who abandoned Hamas,” Dahlan said. “We need a new internal political program assuring Palestinian unity before heading to negotiations [with Israel]. I believe the Arab League is the only one capable of imposing this.”

As far as the ex-Fatah member is concerned, the PA government in Ramallah and the Hamas government in Gaza are on equal standing, serving merely as “small dictatorships under occupation.”

In the absence of a credible, legitimate Palestinian negotiator, Dahlan said, Kerry’s peace efforts are nothing more than an attempt to fill the political void with “an exercise in deception.”