Vice Prime Minister and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz continues to claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is behind the torpedoing of his meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, which was meant to take place on Sunday.
However, most of the evidence indicates that the decision to cancel the meeting was exclusively Palestinian, stemming more than a little from Mofaz’s own problematic conduct.
In a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this morning, Netanyahu even hinted that he is in position of intelligence information proving he had nothing to do with the meeting’s cancellation. During the meeting, MK Nahman Shai (Kadima) asked Netanyahu about Mofaz’s complaints against him.
“I'm explicitly stating – the cancellation of that meeting had nothing to do with me,” Netanyahu replied. “I have all the data, and I could reveal it at a more secret forum.”
The sole evidence linking Netanyahu’s office to the Mofaz-Abbas meeting was actually published in Yisrael Hayom, a newspaper which is known to support Netanyahu. But even that article doesn’t say Netanyahu torpedoed the meeting.
According to the report, prior to the meeting, a phone call took place between Netanyahu’s personal envoy to the peace talks, attorney Isaac Molho, and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat. During the phone conversation it was clarified that Mofaz wasn’t coming to the meeting offering a new concession, but is simply coming to talk with Abbas about returning to the negotiating table.
In several media briefings over the past two weeks Mofaz has been stressing that the meeting with Abbas was “coordinated” with Netanyahu. However, at the same time he said that he was not going to the meeting as Netanyahu's envoy, nor was he planning to pass on any message from him, but merely going to reiterate his own personal positions.
The Palestinians understood that Mofaz was not coming with a mandate from Netanyahu to present any new proposals, and that anything he says would be solely his own opinion.
A senior Israeli official who is in close contact with Abbas and his circle said that in contrast to Mofaz’s complaints against Netanyahu, the meeting was cancelled because of Mofaz’s own mistakes.
His first error, the official said, was the media campaign regarding the preparations for the meeting, which he characterized as a stepping stone toward renewing negotiations with the Palestinians.
For the Palestinians, the term “negotiations” is a considered a red flag. When Ramallah officials heard what Mofaz was saying, they got angry; "we had never agreed to renew negotiations", sources close to Abbas said. “Our terms [for resuming talks] remain unchanged – the halting of construction in the settlements and the recognition of the 1967 lines,” they said.
“Mofaz didn’t act smart and was very sloppy,” the senior Israeli official said. “If you want a serious meeting you don’t act this way. Abu-Mazen [Abbas] already agreed to meet him, but then he heard the declarations unleashed by Mofaz.
The Palestinians saw it as internal Israeli politics and as an attempt by Mofaz to justify his joining the coalition, and they weren’t interested in acting in an internal-Israeli theater. Mofaz had a genuine opportunity, but he made too much noise and blew it.”
A second mistake Mofaz made was that he tried to arrange the meeting with Abbas via an indirect route, through Palestinians that he knows. In doing so, Mofaz circumvented some senior Palestinians close to Abbas. When these officials found out that a meeting was being planned behind their backs, they were infuriated and began pressuring Abbas to cancel the meeting. Some believe that these Palestinian officials were behind the demonstrations that were organized in Ramallah against holding the meeting.
Netanyahu, during the Knesset hearing, also said that despite the cancellation of the meeting with Mofaz, he sees an increasing Palestinian readiness to resume negotiations. The Palestinians are insisting less and less on their preconditions, the premier said. “There might be a renewal of talks, but until the American presidential elections in November the chance of progress is slim,” Netanyahu added.
Netanyahu noted that while the possibility that the Palestinians will renew their unilateral bid at the United Nations in September exists, the Palestinians know that such a move is liable to lead over the long run to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority because of the sanctions that would be imposed by the United States and Israel in response.
Mofaz’s bureau today reiterated their claim that the Prime Minister’s Office was responsible for scuttling the meeting amidst the heavy tension surrounding the formulating of a Tal Law alternative, to regulate the ultra-Orthodox draft deferrals to the IDF.
“That’s the information we received,” said a Mofaz confidant. “No feverish minds made up any kind of stories.”
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