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The Palestine papers
Palestinian distrust of Iran revealed in leaked papers

Mahmoud Abbas asked businessman to donate $50m to Mahmoud Ahamdinejad opponents, according to the documents

26 January 2011

The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas convinced a businessman to fund a radio station for Iran’s opposition, according to the PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat. (Photograph: Majdi Mohammed/AP)

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, tried to persuade a Palestinian businessman to contribute millions of dollars to a radio station for the Iranian opposition after the country’s disputed presidential elections in 2009, according to leaked documents.

Abbas’s move was cited by Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator, in a meeting with the US Middle East envoy George Mitchell as evidence of the Palestinian Authority’s support for US strategic goals in the region, in particular its attempts to counter the influence of Iran, which finances the armed resistance movements Hamas and Hezbollah.

"It’s the moment of truth in the Middle East," Erekat told Mitchell in October 2009. "Ahmadinejad is in Gaza and Lebanon. Pakistan is going failed. The Arab states are doing nothing. You know AM [Abu Mazen/Mahmoud Abbas] had to convince a businessman to pay for Mussawi to have [a] radio station."

The PLO official put a figure on the reported donation to Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign in a meeting with the US national security adviser, General James Jones, in October 2009. "Ten days ago, we had to convince a Palestinian businessman to pay $50m for Mussawi to have a radio station," Erekat said.

The Guardian has established from Iranian opposition sources that the approach was made by Iranians seeking to exploit old contacts with the PLO, but failed.

Earlier that year, the PLO official made clear he believed it was essential for the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership, financed by the US and EU, to show they could make themselves useful to Washington in relation to its policy priorities and areas of military intervention in the wider Middle East.

In a meeting with staff at the PLO’s negotiations support unit in May, Erekat said that he had visited Iraqi Kurdistan – where US and Israeli influence is strong – as part of this strikingly ambitious approach.

"We are breaking the Arab behaviour of going to America and telling him [sic] what we need," he explained.

"Instead we are telling Obama that we can help ... in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. And Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all need to tell Obama how they can help him.

"If other countries think they can use Hamas as a card we will do the same with them. We are not running a charity. Iran is playing games, they are using Hamas as a card."

Erekat also attacked the emir of Qatar, the owner of al-Jazeera TV, for "conducting a personal campaign against Abbas". Other Palestinian officials complained that Qatar financed Hamas.

The PLO negotiator argued in many meetings with US officials cited in the documents that a two-state settlement for Israel and the Palestinians was necessary as part of wider strategy of promoting moderation and fighting al-Qaida in the Middle East.

"If there wasn’t an Israeli embassy in Cairo," he told staffers, "Bin Laden would be there and if there wasn’t one in Amman [Bin Laden’s deputy] Zawahiri would set up shop too."

Ian Black and Seumas Milne
26 January, 2011.