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PA officials deny report Abbas willing to meet Netanyahu in Moscow

Palestinian sources say Israelis haven’t responded to Ramallah’s preconditions for face-to-face summit, no point in meeting just for photo-op

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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

A report that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow was swiftly denied by senior Palestinian officials Monday.

Russia’s Interfax news agency earlier Monday reported that the Palestinian envoy to Moscow had conveyed Abbas’s willingness to sit with Netanyahu during a meeting with Russia’s Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, in Amman earlier in the day.

Such talks would be the first public summit between the two leaders since 2010, and a sign of progress to jump-start moribund peace talks amid a flurry of international diplomatic initiatives, including an offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin to host face to face talks in Moscow.

But a senior Palestinian Authority source denied the Russian report to The Times of Israel, saying Ramallah has yet to receive a response from Israel to its preconditions — that Jerusalem commit to a settlement freeze and a prisoner release. Those preconditions, the source said, would have to be met before a direct meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu could take place.

The source emphasized the entire Palestinian leadership was united in its demand that Israel commit to the preconditions, and expressed “puzzlement” that the report of Abbas’s ostensible willingness to meet Netanyahu first appeared in Russian media, rather than a Palestinian outlet.

Another source from Abbas’s office also denied the Russian report, telling The Times of Israel that “we don’t want a meeting just for the sake of a meeting, but something to advance the peace process.”

Earlier on Monday, Bogdanov met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem to discuss the possibility of coordinating a meeting between him and Abbas.

According the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu “presented Israel’s position that he is always ready to meet with President Abbas directly and without preconditions,” a statement said.

“He is therefore reviewing the Russian president’s proposal and the timing of a possible meeting.”

Bogdanov said “formats, dates and venues” for a possible meeting were being discussed, the Russian state-run TASS news agency reported.

“The work goes on, contacts are in progress. Different options of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement are being explored, including personal contacts,” he said.

“Vigorous efforts in all directions are being made,” he added.

Bogdanov is scheduled to travel to Ramallah on Tuesday to convey Netanyahu’s response to the Palestinians.

US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in April 2014 and the prospects of fresh dialogue have appeared increasingly remote.

In July, Abbas reportedly turned down a request by US Secretary of State John Kerry to meet Netanyahu, saying he would only acquiesce after the Israeli leader froze all settlement construction and released the last group of prisoners that were slated to be freed as a goodwill gesture in the 2014 peace talks.

In May, Netanyahu said he was willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem. If he’d like, in Ramallah. Right now. Today.” In April, Abbas told Israeli television that Netanyahu is “the partner” for peace, and called on the Israeli premier to meet with him “at any time,” prompting Netanyahu to declare that his invitation stands.

Earlier this year, France convened a Paris meeting of world powers — without Israel or the Palestinians — to work toward organizing an international conference to reboot talks by the end of the year.

While Netanyahu dismissed the French initiative, the Palestinians welcomed the prospects of a conference.

The Middle East diplomatic quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — urged Israel to stop building settlements and Palestinians to cease incitement to violence in a July report that drew a frosty response from both sides.

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi recently offered to host direct talks between Netanyahu and Abbas, as part of Cairo’s efforts to revive the peace process.

The tripartite summit, which would also be attended by senior officials from Jordan and Egypt, would seek to engage in confidence-building measures in an effort to calm the 10-month surge in violence in the West Bank, according to Palestinian officials.

The last substantial public meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu is thought to have been in 2010, though there have been unconfirmed reports of secret meetings since then.

Avi Issacharoff and Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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