Close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prompted the cancelation on Saturday of a meeting set for Sunday between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, sources close to Mofaz claimed.
Netanyahu’s aides dismissed the claim, however, and Palestinian sources said Abbas postponed the meeting because he wants to meet first with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and that such a meeting will take place in the next few days.
Mofaz’s camp claimed a disagreement between Netanyahu and Mofaz over the particulars of a law to include ultra-Orthodox Israelis in mandatory national service led the prime minister’s advisers to call the meeting off.
A meeting on Friday meeting between Netanyahu and Mofaz concerning ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the IDF ended in a deadlock. Mofaz said that Kadima would not budge on its insistence to penalize yeshiva students who do not enlist, a measure Netanyahu opposes.
Kadima sources blamed the subsequent cancelation of Mofaz’s Ramallah talks with Abbas on pressure from the Netanyahu camp, saying, “It proves the depth of the crisis between Mofaz and Netanyahu on the issue of IDF enlistment.”
The Prime Minister’s Office, however, denied Netanyahu had anything to do with the cancelation. Sources close to the prime minister dismissed the claim, pointing to the fact that the allegations against the prime minister emerged “after the Palestinians had already announced that the meeting was canceled because of protests against it in Ramallah.”
Senior Fatah official Bakr Abu Bakr said Saturday that the meeting was canceled because of popular Palestinian opposition to it. Hamas had for days been castigating Abbas for the planned meeting.
Other Palestinian sources said later Saturday that Abbas was set to meet soon with Clinton on issues relating to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, and wanted to have that meeting before he met with Mofaz.
The rare high-level talks Abbas-Mofaz could have been a step toward resuming formal peace negotiations, although expectations were low that they would produce any breakthrough.
Mofaz heads the centrist Kadima Party and has been urging Netanyahu to make another push for a peace deal. But prior to joining politics, he was chief of staff of the IDF and defense minister, and consequently unpopular among many Palestinians. Therefore, hosting Mofaz in Ramallah was particularly touchy for some.
Mofaz has previously proposed seeking an interim arrangement with the Palestinians, granting them independence within temporary borders, while final borders and other issues are subsequently worked out. His joining the coalition had set off hopes among some for a resumption of peace talks toward a Palestinian state, which last broke off in 2008.
But Palestinians insisted that the Abbas-Mofaz meeting would not have marked a formal resumption of talks anyway. The Palestinians have refused to talk peace with Israel so long as West Bank settlement construction continues. Netanyahu insists that talks begin without preconditions and that all issues be resolved through negotiations.