A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered to begin secret, direct talks with Israel aimed at bringing about a two-state solution.
Spokesman David Keyes rejected statements quoted in a JTA article carried by The Times of Israel Tuesday, saying there was “no truth whatsoever” in the claims that Abbas attempted to start closed-door talks on three separate occasions.
Gershon Baskin, who has in the past acted as a conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian officials, said Monday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered three times to begin secret, direct negotiations with Netanyahu. Each time, Baskin said, Netanyahu refused.
“Netanyahu is paying lip service to the public and the world, because Abbas has offered Netanyahu on three opportunities a request to enter into secret, direct negotiations,” Baskin told JTA.
In a Tuesday statement, Keyes flatly denied Baskin’s claim.
“There is no truth whatsoever to the claim that President Abbas offered to begin secret direct talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Keyes said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to call on President Abbas to meet anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions. Unfortunately, President Abbas has refused.”
In response Tuesday, Baskin doubled down on the claim, saying he knew about the offers because he personally delivered them to Netanyahu.
“There are at least three times I know of, because I sent the messages for Abbas,” he said.
I am not the liar here and I have nothing to hide. https://t.co/X06OzOwPcc
— Gershon Baskin جرشون باسكين (@gershonbaskin) May 17, 2016
Netanyahu’s commitment to a Palestinian state, even in theory, has remained a question mark and divided observers of Israeli politics since he took office in 2009. Both his defenders and his critics point to different sets of gestures and statements he’s made that signal support for, or opposition to, a two-state solution.
US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in April 2014 and the prospects of fresh dialogue have appeared increasingly remote.
More recently, Netanyahu has made repeated statements inviting Abbas to meet, saying he is willing to talk with the Palestinian leader “whenever, wherever.” Last week, he claimed that he’d done more to advance peace than any other Israeli leader in history.
In a speech before the diplomatic corps at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to mark Israel’s 68th Independence Day, Netanyahu said he was willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem. If he’d like, in Ramallah. Right now. Today.”
Abbas has made similar statements saying he is willing to meet Netanyahu at any point, though neither leader has met face to face since 2010.
In 2015, the two briefly shook hands during a photo sessions at a climate conference in France.