Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denied on Thursday an Israeli report that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conducted a clandestine dialogue for years using confidants who met in London to pass messages between the two camps.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeina denied the existence of back-channel discussions, saying that “there had not been any secret talks between Abbas and Israeli officials,” according to the independent Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
The Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Thursday cited sources who said that Netanyahu had entrusted Attorney Yitzhak Molcho, his trusted adviser, with the delicate task of making contact with a Palestinian representative of Abbas.
Although the identity of the Palestinian partner in the meetings is less clear, sources suggested Bassil Akel, a London-based Palestinian businessman and close friend of Abbas, as a likely candidate.
The communication channel was used to exchange messages and ideas and to try to resolve problems between the two sides. According to the report, the behind-the-scenes meetings were most significant during the previous Israeli government when official negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians ground to a halt. Since official talks resumed in the summer of 2013, with Molcho as a key Israeli negotiator, the secret channel has become mostly obsolete.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report to The Times of Israel.
While Israel and the PA deal maintain contact via the Israel Defense Forces, civil administration and Palestinian security establishment to deal with day-to-day issues, the purpose of the London channel seemed to be focused on reaching a diplomatic breakthrough.
The secrecy of the encounters apparently enabled the meetings to operate without interference and political pressure.