Officials Bypass Netanyahu to Plan Peres-Abbas Meeting

Talks have recently been underway to arrange a summit between the two in Rome this April.

Talks have recently been underway to arrange a summit meeting in Rome this April between President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The talks have reportedly been carried out without the involvement or even the knowledge of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Abbas has persistently refused to meet.

The efforts were first reported by the Italian daily Corriere della Serra following a press conference on the subject by senior Palestinian and Italian officials in Rome.

The person behind the summit drive is Uri Savir, president of the Peres Center for Peace, who was one of the architects of the Oslo accords and served as director general of the Foreign Ministry when Peres was foreign minister. Savir has been trying to arrange the summit for months now, but until recently, Peres rejected the idea.

A few weeks ago, however, Peres finally agreed. Savir then informed the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, that if Abbas agreed, Peres would be happy to hold a summit with him in that city, at which the two leaders would launch a new international drive for peace.

Both Alemanno's office and that of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi then contacted the Israeli embassy to arrange details of the meeting. But the embassy staff responded that they knew nothing about it. And when they asked the President's Residence, they were told that Peres would not be coming.

But a few days later, Haaretz has learned, Peres again bowed to pressure from Savir: He asked the embassy in Rome to inform Italian officials that if Abbas in fact agreed to come to the meeting, scheduled for April 21, so would Peres.

However, the President's Residence never informed anyone in the Prime Minister's Bureau about the proposed summit. And when Netanyahu's staff finally learned of it from the Italian media reports, they were furious over Peres' failure to inform them, one senior Israeli official said.

The President's Residence responded that "As of now, the president does not intend to travel to Italy, and no meeting has been scheduled for him with Abu Mazen [Abbas]. The president has said more than once that he would be happy to help advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians and would respond favorably to any initiative based on the principle of dialogue between the parties. But as of today, no summit or meeting between the parties has been set. If circumstances change, the president will inform the prime minister of his decision and will coordinate all future meetings or trips with him. The president's political advisor has made it clear to our ambassador in Rome that as of now, we cannot confirm Peres' arrival."