Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prevented President Shimon Peres from traveling to Jordan in 2011 to finalize a peace deal reached secretly with the Palestinians, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Thursday.
The statement by Erekat follows claims by Peres and others that he had come close to reaching a historic agreement with Abbas three years ago before being stymied by Netanyahu.
“I don’t want to go into the details [of the agreement], but [Peres's] version is true. [Peres] was supposed to travel to Amman and Netanyahu prevented him from even coming to meet President [Abbas],” the Palestinian negotiator told Nazareth radio station A-Shams.
Abbas and Peres had previously met several times in London and elsewhere, Erekat added, but when Netanyahu realized that the Amman meeting — held under the auspices of King Abdullah — “had to do with politics,” he canceled it.
“I don’t think Peres had a problem with 1967 [borders],” Erekat said, in his only reference to the details of the draft agreement. “The one who had a problem with it was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. There was a meeting scheduled in Amman, I was there, and they [the president's team] called us at the last minute and said: ‘Netanyahu prevented us from attending.’
“This is a testimony by the President of Israel, for the entire world, about the nature of his prime minister,” Erekat said.
In August 2011, Abbas told a meeting of his ruling Fatah movement that he had held four rounds of talks with the Israeli president, who was one of the architects of the Oslo Accords of 1993 that established the Palestinian Authority.
“After the first four meetings, a fifth meeting was planned in Amman but Shimon Peres made his excuses and told me: ‘I’m sorry but the government doesn’t accept what we have negotiated and there’s nothing more I can do’,” he said then.
The Prime Minister’s Office has declined to respond to reports that Netanyahu put the kibosh on a deal, but denied that Abbas and Peres were close to coming to terms.
“[Abbas] did not agree to anything. This time around as well, all he wanted was to receive and give nothing in return,” a source at the PMO told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “This is a known tactic of his, to take an ambiguous stance until he’s pushed into a corner and then flees.”
‘I don’t think Peres had a problem with 1967 [borders],’ Erekat said. ‘The one who had a problem with it was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’
Talks with the Palestinians broke down at the end of April as the nine-month time frame originally defined by the Americans lapsed, with each side accusing the other of undermining the negotiations through unilateral actions.
But Erekat said that talks could resume only if Israel agreed to recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, defining its own frontiers by doing so.
“Israel is the only state in the world, after 66 years, which does not have recognized borders,” Erekat said. “It implements an apartheid regime in the West Bank worse than the one of South Africa.”
Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, revealed in a letter to Western ambassadors on April 22 that Erekat wrote a policy paper in March in preparation for a Palestinian rejection of American mediation efforts and Israeli overtures.
Implicitly countering that report and the claim of an Israeli official close to negotiations who accused Palestinians of torpedoing the talks, Erekat said that the Palestinians were prepared to continue negotiating beyond April 29. But Israel decided to stop all contact with them following the Palestinian bid to join 15 international conventions and treaties.
“There is no side which benefits from [US Secretary of State John] Kerry’s efforts more than us, and which suffers from their failure more than us,” Erekat said, repeating a phrase he has used numerous times in the past.
“Every time we met, [Israeli negotiator Yitzhak] Molcho would tell me: ‘What about Gaza, what about Gaza?’ He would use Gaza and the coup [against Fatah] as a sword on my neck every hour.”
Erekat defended the reconciliation deal with Hamas reached April 23, saying that the Islamic movement is “a Palestinian political party, not a terrorist movement.”
“When we disagree, let us return to the ballot box rather than to bullets,” he said.
Fatah official Mohammed Al-Madani told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that Peres “spoke the truth” when reporting on Netanyahu’s intransigence in 2011.
Raphael Ahren and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.