‘Morocco’s king dispatches Jewish aide to push Israeli-Palestinian talks’
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‘Morocco’s king dispatches Jewish aide to push Israeli-Palestinian talks’

Channel 2 says senior officials from both sides will meet this week under auspices of Sam Ben Shitrit, with backing from Abbas and Netanyahu

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Sam Ben Shitrit, founder and chairman of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews in a television interview in 2012. (Screenshot from YouTube)
Sam Ben Shitrit, founder and chairman of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews in a television interview in 2012. (Screenshot from YouTube)

The king of Morocco has reportedly sent a veteran Moroccan Jewish negotiator to push for a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in order to renew peace talks.

Mohammed VI is making efforts to facilitate the meeting using Sam Ben-Shitrit, Channel 2 news reported Monday.

Ben-Shitrit is the founder and chairman of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews, and has on a number of occasions acted as a middleman between Israel and Morocco, which do not have official diplomatic relations.

According to the TV report, Ben-Shitrit has arranged a meeting between several unnamed high-level PA and Israeli public officials to take place later this week. Both Netanyahu and Abbas gave the okay for the meeting and even reportedly expressed willingness to meet each other.

Morocco kingNetanyahu reportedly told Ben-Shitrit that the king’s plan is an opportunity to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In a recent meeting with Ben-Shitrit, Abbas, for his part, said he would be willing to meet with Netanyahu without agreed-upon preconditions for restarting negotiations, Channel 2 said.

After that meeting, Ben-Shitrit is said to have sent a letter to Netanyahu quoting Abbas as saying, “At the beginning of next month, I will write a personal letter to Netanyahu proposing a meeting with him.”

The Israeli and Palestinian leader have not held an official meeting in over five years; they were last photographed together in November 2015, shaking hands on the sidelines of the climate change conference held in Paris. After a group photo of more than 150 world leaders attending the conference, Netanyahu and Abbas could be seen exchanging words in a meeting that lasted no more that a few seconds.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France, on November 30, 2015. (AFP/Martin Bureau/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the UN Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France, on November 30, 2015. (AFP/Martin Bureau/Pool)

“It’s important for the world to see that we’re ready to talk,” Netanyahu said later, stressing, however, that it was merely an act of “protocol” since they happened to be standing close to each other. “On the other hand, we have no illusions about Abu Mazen (Abbas). Incitement plays a central role in [fostering] terrorism and Abu Mazen must stop his incitement,” he added.

The prime minister has accused Abbas of inciting against Israel, lying about ostensible Israeli plans to change arrangements on the Temple Mount, and thereby playing a role in encouraging the ongoing wave of Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis.

The king of Morocco’s reported efforts to facilitate a new meeting come as a number of international players are also pushing for a renewal of peace talks.

Meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power reiterated her country’s commitment to advancing a two-state solution, as well as a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meeting with Samantha Power in Jerusalem on February 15, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Benjamin Netanyahu (right), meeting with Samantha Power in Jerusalem on February 15, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

On Friday, representatives of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers announced plans to try to kick-start long-moribund negotiations between the two sides.

In a joint statement by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN’s Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, they said they will prepare a report on the current situation between Israel and the Palestinians, with an eye toward resuming peace talks.

The new report would include “recommendations that can help inform international discussions on the best way to advance the two-state solution.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

 

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