Haim Ramon
Haim Ramon at the State Control Committee meeting on Wednesday July 21, 2010. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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A former minister on Sunday flatly denied claims that he pleaded with the Palestinians not to enter into direct negotiations with Israel, Israel Radio reported.

Chaim Ramon said a witness who claimed to have listened in on his conversation with top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was lying and could not be regarded as credible.

Ramon, who has held several ministerial posts - most recently as justice minister in the centrist government of Ehud Olmert, told Israel Radio that the claims against him were an attempt by a political rival to smear him.

Last Thursday, Israel Radio quoted an unnamed source as saying that Ramon met Erekat on July 8 at the American Colony Hotel, attempting to convince the Palestinian to resist international pressure to enter direct peace talks with Israel.

In a radio interview, Ramon dismissed the accusations, instead blaming  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for throwing negotiations into jeopardy by failing to take them seriously.

Ramon said that his conversation with Erekat was a matter of public record, and that he would continue to meet with Palestinians as he had for the past 20 years.

Ramon allegedly told Erekat that he had been sent as an emissary of President Shimon Peres, a claim which surprised Erekat, the source said. He also reportedly told Erekat that the Palestinians should not enter direct negotiations as Netanyahu would inevitably reject the Palestinian Authority's demands.

Peres' bureau confirmed that the president had met with Ramon for lunch a day earlier, on July 7, and that Ramon had informed him of his planned meeting with Erekat.

But the President denied he had sent Ramon to dissuade Erekat from backing direct negotiations, saying he had in fact asked the minister to do the opposite. Peres did not need a mediator to meet with the Palestinian negotiator on his behalf, his bureau said.

Erekat responded to the report by saying he did not discuss private meetings with the press.