Palestinians in Washington Deny Indirect Talks With Israel

Saeb Erekat says after meeting with State Department officials that he did not know Israel had sent delegates to U.S. until after his arrival.

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Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday denied that a Palestinian delegation to Washington exchanged messages with an Israeli official, who is also in the United States for meetings with the White House, saying that he did not know the Israelis would be there.

"There was no meeting with the Israeli delegate Yitzhak Molcho, no direct or indirect exchange of messages," Erekat told Haaretz following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other State Department officials.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb ErekatCredit: Dan Keinan

Erekat told Haaretz he learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aide Molcho was also holding talks with the White House only after he arrived in Washington.

Earlier it was reported that Israeli and Palestinian delegates are separately holding covert talks with White House officials in an effort to reignite peace talks.

The Unites States initiated the talks following the French proposal which calls for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to meet this month or by early July with an eye to reviving talks which broke off last year in a dispute on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

"[Palestinian] President Abbas met with French Foreign Minister Juppe on Wednesday who produced an initiative, that we accepted, to resume negotiations. We told Mr. Juppe we want to hear the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu say 'I accept the initiative.' There is no big difference between what the French and the Americans are telling us," Erekat said following his meeting in the White House.

"Its the same negotiations on the basis of 1967 borders with agreed land swaps," Erekat said after talks with Clinton. "The problem is not with Juppe, Sweden, the U.S. or Lesotho, the problem is with the prime minister of Israel. Prime Minster Netanyahu can say yes in Hebrew, in English, he can say it Chinese, but meanwhile he wants to come to Washington to make peace with Congress. He comes to Washington to dictate the results of negotiations while we seek to resume negotiations."

The Palestinians plan to unilaterally seek UN recognition of statehood in September -- a step Israel strongly opposes fearing it could end up isolated internationally. The United States has already said it opposes the plan.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe this week offered to host talks to discuss ideas for a Palestinian state raised last month by U.S. President Barack Obama, aiming to avert a showdown at the United Nations in September.

Both Clinton and Juppe said in a joint press conference in Washington on Monday that there is sufficient work that needs to be done before the two sides sit down to talk, and denied that they have reached an agreement.

"Right now there is no agreement that the parties will resume negotiations and any gathering has to be linked to willingness of parties to negotiate. It won't be productive to have a conference about returning to negotiations. We are in a wait-and-see attitude, and we have a serious concern about the role Hamas will play in the negotiations," Clinton said after her meeting with her French counterpart.

"The Palestinians reacted positively and the Israelis didnt say no. We will only have this conference if there is sufficient work done," Juppe said.



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