Top Abbas aide: There were ‘no preconditions’ for Netanyahu meeting
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Top Abbas aide: There were ‘no preconditions’ for Netanyahu meeting

While Israel said Ramallah never dropped demands for settlement freeze, prisoner release, PA leader’s adviser insists Israel stymied Moscow summit

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Polish President Andrzej Duda (C-R) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C-L) inspect an honour guard during an official welcoming ceremony in the courtyard of the presidential palace in Warsaw on September 6, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JANEK SKARZYNSKI)
Polish President Andrzej Duda (C-R) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C-L) inspect an honour guard during an official welcoming ceremony in the courtyard of the presidential palace in Warsaw on September 6, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JANEK SKARZYNSKI)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had forgone his long-held preconditions and was planning in earnest to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow this Friday, but the summit was spiked by Israel, the PA leader’s top political adviser said Wednesday.

“There were no preconditions. That was very clear. When President [Vladimir] Putin invited the two sides, he said, ‘No preconditions.’ President Abbas approved that, and he said so very clearly yesterday when he was in Warsaw,” Majdi al-Khalidi told The Times of Israel in a phone interview.

Until Tuesday, Palestinian officials and senior politicians had maintained the PA president would not meet with Netanyahu unless the Israeli leader first agreed to release prisoners and halt West Bank settlement construction.

Netanyahu has long maintained that he was willing to meet with Abbas anytime, anywhere.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem, September 15, 2010. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem, September 15, 2010. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

While in Poland on Tuesday, Abbas declared he was willing to meet Netanyahu in Moscow, though he did not explicitly mention the preconditions in his statement.

However, the Palestinian leader added, Netanyahu’s representative sought to delay the Moscow meeting, which would have taken place September 9, to a later date.

Netanyahu followed up Abbas’s press conference in Poland with his own, alongside Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte give a press conference in The Hague, September 6, 2016. (AFP/ANP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte give a press conference in The Hague, September 6, 2016. (AFP/ANP)

If there were no preconditions to the Moscow meeting, the Israeli prime minister seemed unaware.

“Is Abbas prepared to meet without preconditions? We hear contradictory versions on that,” said Netanyahu.

“Just yesterday Palestinian spokespeople clarified that they are prepared to meet but that they have conditions — the release of prisoners and they also want to know beforehand what will be the end result of the talks, and such like,” Netanyahu said.

Both leaders finished their speeches saying they were willing to go to any meeting.

Khalidi, Abbas’s adviser, said he didn’t know why the Israeli prime minister believed there were preconditions to the Moscow meeting.

“No one said there were preconditions. Many people in Israel and Palestine speak in general. But after what the president said, why do we have to listen to people from this side or that side. We have only one agency that is official, Wafa. We have one official spokesperson, Nabil abu-Rudeineh,” Khalidi said.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh (L), spokesman of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, welcomes Israeli opposition head Isaac Herzog (C) at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2015. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
Nabil Abu Rudeineh (L), spokesman of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, welcomes Israeli opposition head Isaac Herzog (C) at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2015. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

The Prime Minister’s Office voiced skepticism of the statements.

“If the Palestinian leadership can say with one voice that they are willing to meet without preconditions, then Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet President Abbas,” Netanyahu’s spokesperson David Keyes told The Times of Israel.

On Tuesday night, Abu Rudeineh, the official Abbas spokesperson, said Netanyahu “had once again shown a lack of seriousness in searching for a just peace based on the two-state solution.”

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.

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.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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