President Shimon Peres said Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu torpedoed a peace deal reached covertly in 2011 with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Speaking to Channel 2 news Tuesday, Peres said that he and Abbas had essentially reached a draft agreement on “almost all issues” and that an accord was being readied, after a series of secret meetings in Jordan.
Peres said that the prime minister asked him to wait three or four days, in the hopes that Quartet Representative and former British prime minister Tony Blair could negotiate a better deal.
“The days went by and there was no better deal,” said Peres. “Netanyahu stopped it [the potential agreement].”
The president told the TV channel that during these talks, which were held in Amman, Abbas agreed to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a core demand of the Israeli government and a crutch in the most recent round of negotiations.
“He was supposed to agree [to recognize] a Jewish state and we were supposed to agree to recognize [a future] Palestinian state,” said Peres.
US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which began last summer ended abruptly in April without an agreement.
After nine months of negotiations, Israel last month suspended further negotiations over the unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas reached two weeks ago.
Netanyahu said in US television interviews that the Israeli government “will be there, I’ll be there,” if there was a genuine partner for peace. But the unity pact showed that Israel had no such partner at present.
Contrary to statements made by other Israel officials, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s most recent remark that Abbas had no real desire for peace, Peres said that the Palestinian Authority president was indeed a partner.
“I’ve known Abu Mazen [as Abbas is known] for 30 years…and the truth is he has fought terror with the resources that he has,” Peres said during the interview.
“He talks about peace and makes courageous remarks” he added.
The Prime Minister’s Office, in response, denied that a Peres-Abbas agreement had been imminent.
“Abu Mazen 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. “This is a known tactic of his, to take an ambiguous stance until he’s pushed into a corner and then flees. This is what happened when he said no at Camp David [in 2000] with [then Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat, it’s what happened at Annapolis [in 2008]. He’s done the same thing now with [US Secretary of State John] Kerry when he said no.”
“The only agreement [Abbas reached] was with Hamas. He who hugs a mass murderer [Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal] on our Memorial Day is not looking for peace with Israel,” the source added.
It was not the first time that the secret talks between Peres and the Palestinian leader had been discussed.
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.
Peres is to retire in July at the age of 90 at the end of his seven-year presidential term and after a political career spanning nearly seven decades.
He told The Times of Israel in an interview for Independence Day that he intended to continue to be active, including by galvanizing international support to press Hamas to accept Israel and renounce terrorism.