Isaac Molho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's adviser and special diplomatic envoy, enlisted the help of Israel's attorney general to avoid serving on Likud's coalition negotiations team, sources say.
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Two weeks ago, Likud spokeswoman Noga Rappaport sent a text message to political correspondents stating that Molho would not be participating in the negotiations. The reason, Rappaport said, was that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein believed the secondary role would constitute a conflict of interests.
“In light of the fact that furthering the diplomatic process with the Palestinians has been presented as a key objective of the next government, Molho has decided, in consultation with the prime minister, to continue in his role as Netanyahu’s emissary to the negotiations [with the Palestinians],” Rappaport said.
But as it turns out, Weinstein did not “dismiss” Molho from the team. Rather, he helped get Molho out of a job he didn't want.
Two Israeli sources who spoke recently with Molho say he never wanted to participate in the coalition negotiations in the first place. But instead of telling Netanyahu directly, he enlisted Weinstein’s help, according to the sources, who asked not to be quoted by name.
Netanyahu had asked Molho immediately after the elections to take part in the talks, as he had done in 2009. But Molho, who is considered one of Netanyahu's closest associates, was apparently less than enthusiastic about the role, to put it mildly. According to the sources, he did not want to “sully” his clean image by getting involved with coalition talks. Moreover, he was afraid of damaging his credibility at the White House and the U.S. State Department, as well as at the Palestinian Authority’s government center at the Muqata in Ramallah.
Netanyahu pushed, and even told others that Molho was indeed on the team. But Molho asked that the appointment be conditioned on approval by the attorney general.
A smart and seasoned attorney, Molho knew full well what Weinstein’s answer would be, according to sources. And it was not long in coming: The appointment, Weinstein declared, was problematic.
All that was left to do was to spin the story by releasing a statement to the press about the desire to further peace talks with the Palestinians.
In Molho’s defense, he is indeed trying to jump-start negotiations with the Palestinians. Last week he spent two days in Washington, D.C., during which time he met with the new U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, for the first time since Kerry took office. Kerry, who has said on numerous occasions that he intends to push for renewed peace talks, is expected to come to Israel within the next two weeks, ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama.
While Molho was in Washington, he also met with White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, as well as with Middle East peace envoy David Hale.
Molho returned to Israel on Thursday and reported on the meetings to Netanyahu. At the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said his national security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, would be leaving for Washington this week to continue preparations for Obama’s visit to Israel on March 20.
"Furthering the diplomatic process with the Palestinians will be on the agenda during Obama’s visit,” Netanyahu said. “There is no doubt that this issue will be part of the work of the next government.”