Abbas says he agreed to Moscow meeting, Netanyahu postponed
PA leader appears to soften stance on longstanding demand for settlement freeze, prisoner release before summit can take place
Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday he was willing to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow on Friday, but that the Israeli premier had asked to postpone the meeting.
“Netanyahu’s representative proposed to delay this meeting to a later date. So the meeting will not happen, but I am ready and I declare again that I will go to any meeting,” Abbas said at a joint press conference in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
According to the official PA news agency Wafa, Abbas said he was willing to meet anywhere in the world “because dialogue is important for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living beside Israel in peace and stability.”
The comments by Abbas appeared to suggest that he has softened his longstanding insistence that any meeting with Netanyahu be preceded by an Israeli settlement freeze and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
If so, it would contradict what senior sources close to Abbas told The Times of Israel and other Israeli media outlets a day earlier.
Rumors swirled Monday night that the PA leader had agreed to meet with Netanyahu in Moscow, following Netanyahu’s meeting earlier that day in Jerusalem with Russia’s Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov.
Netanyahu reiterated after the meeting that he was willing to meet with Abbas without preconditions.
“[Netanyahu] is therefore reviewing the Russian president’s proposal and the timing of a possible meeting,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
Abed al-Hafeez Nofal, the Palestinian ambassador to Moscow, told AFP later that day that Abbas had agreed to a meeting.
“We told the Russian side today that president Abbas accepted the Russian initiative about the meeting of Abbas and Netanyahu with President Putin in Moscow,” he said.
However, the ambassador added, “It is clear for us that the Israelis are evading the requirements of the meeting.” Although he did not provide further details, his comments compounded existing doubts as to whether such a meeting could take place.
According to Interfax, the ambassador said the talks had been slated for September 9, but had been postponed “because of Israel’s position.”
The idea of direct talks in Moscow was first floated by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in August, when he said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to play host.
On Monday night, two senior Palestinian officials said Abbas had not agreed to a meeting, and was awaiting Israel’s response to its preconditions — that Jerusalem commit to a settlement freeze and a prisoner release.
One source also expressed “puzzlement” that the report of Abbas’s ostensible willingness to meet Netanyahu first appeared in Russian media, rather than a Palestinian outlet.
However, Abbas has persistently demanded that Netanyahu agree to his preconditions before any meeting. Washington also reportedly tried to organize a meeting between the two leaders and hit a similar impasse.
Netanyahu has shown no signs he is willing to consider Abbas’s demands, although he has reiterated multiple times that there would be no Israeli preconditions for such a meeting.
PA demands peacemakers pressure Israel
Earlier on Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry said that parties trying to advance the peace process should first pressure Israel into halting settlement construction and other “violations” against the Palestinian people.
“At a time when there is continual international and regional activity in order to jumpstart negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, Netanyahu’s radical government continues its escalation of aggression, settlements and daily crimes against the Palestinian people,” it said in a statement.
“The ministry requests that those who have taken it upon themselves to push forward the train of negotiations and peace [end] their silence [on Israeli violations] and direct their pressure at the Israeli government to compel it to end its settlement building, violations and field executions against the Palestinian people, in order to provide the proper environment to ensure the success of efforts to revive peace and negotiation,” the statement added.
In a rare public venting of anger against foreign influence earlier this week, Abbas singled out both Moscow and Washington as two capitals whose pressure he wouldn’t take into account when making decisions for the Palestinians.
Peace efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
The last substantial public meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu is thought to have been held in 2010, though there have been unconfirmed reports of secret meetings since then.
AFP contributed to this report.