A Palestinian website on Sunday said Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman recently met with the ostracized former Palestinian Authority official Mohammad Dahlan, a bitter rival of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, in Paris.
The report naming Liberman appeared on the arab48 website only hours after The Times of Israel revealed that a senior Israeli minister held several meetings recently with Dahlan.
The meetings between Dahlan and the minister took place in at least two European capitals, Israeli sources, as well as Palestinian sources close to Abbas, told The Times of Israel.
Dahlan, a longtime opponent of Abbas who was expelled from Abbas’s Fatah party in 2011, is considered a legitimate contender by some Palestinians and PLO leaders to replace the president, who’s been in power since 2005.
He once held the internal security portfolio and headed the powerful security forces in the Gaza Strip, but fell from grace in June 2007 when Hamas drove Fatah from Gaza after days of fierce street battles. He has a powerful friend in Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
When Abbas got wind of the meetings, the PA contacted senior Israeli officials to ascertain whether they were authorized by the Israeli government and were a reflection of its policy, the sources said.
In response, Netanyahu informed Abbas that he had not authorized the meetings, and that the Israeli government was opposed to them, the sources said.
Netanyahu’s response was conveyed through Yoram Cohen, the head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, during a meeting with Abbas in Ramallah on November 26.
The Israeli minister’s office vehemently denied that he had met with Dahlan, a denial echoed by the former Palestinian official.
Dahlan told The Times of Israel that false information had been leaked regarding the alleged meeting by Israeli politicians, who intended to make hay out of the news ahead of March’s Knesset elections.
Both the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Shin Bet declined to comment.
Relations between Netanyahu and Liberman have been particularly strained of late. Last week, Netanyahu held an emergency meeting to discuss how to respond to Abbas’s move to join the International Criminal Court, and did not invite Liberman to attend. On Sunday, the foreign minister repeated a frequent implied criticism of Netanyahu, in an address to Israeli ambassadors based in Europe who are meeting in Jerusalem, when he said Israel needs to initiate action relating to peace and the Palestinians and not merely respond to Palestinian moves.
Dahlan on Saturday announced that he’d form a united front in opposition to Abbas following the latter’s failed statehood bid at the UN Security Council.
Dahlan told Sky News Arabic in an interview that the latest Palestinian diplomatic effort at the United Nations spearheaded by Abbas was “a disaster” and said that Palestinian governmental institutions were not involved in the decision-making process.
“Most of the Palestinian people oppose the proposal that [Abbas] put forward” at the Security Council, Dahlan said. “This was a hasty and reckless decision that wasn’t made with the unified consensus of the Palestinians.
“The proposal was changed a number of times without consultation of the decision makers. This was a decision that constitutes a new disaster for relations with Israel which will bring shame and destruction of the Palestinian issue.”
The Security Council on Tuesday voted down the resolution, which called for the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the withdrawal of Israeli forces by the end of 2017.
In June 2011 Dahlan was expelled from Fatah’s ruling body and also lost his parliamentary immunity following allegations of financial corruption and murder.
Last May, a West Bank court sentenced Dahlan, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, to two years in jail — effectively barring him from ever running in general or presidential elections.
AFP contributed to this report.