Hamas' Meshal Held Back Channel Talks With Shin Bet, Says New Book

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal held secret talks with former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin in the spring of 2006, journalist Shlomi Eldar says in a book published in Hebrew this week. In "Getting To Know Hamas," published by Keter, Eldar says then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was aware of the talks, which were brokered by a European mediator.

The European mediator approached two Israelis with whom he had work contact in April 2006 and asked them, on Meshal's behalf, whether Israel would agree to a strategic settlement in the wake of Hamas' election triumph in January that year, the book says.

One of the two Israelis was businessman Nimrod Novick, a former aide to Shimon Peres. The other remains anonymous. The two contacted Diskin and relayed the message from the European mediator. Diskin agreed to talk to the man, whom he had met in the past. About a month before IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted, the envoy came to Israel for a special meeting with Diskin and outlined Meshal's ideas, the book reports.

Diskin passed these ideas on to Olmert at a tete-a-tete and Olmert said he was willing to hear more details of Hamas' proposals to Israel, Eldar writes.

In early June 2006 the European mediator flew to Damascus, where Meshal had been based, to meet with him and senior Hamas officials Mousa Abu Marzook and Imad al-Alami. They discussed a document detailing the way Hamas sees its future relations with Israel.

The introduction to the document, entitled "Peaceful Coexistence," says negotiations between Israel and Hamas will be conducted with mediators at first.

The envoy left Damascus some two weeks later and met Diskin, who promised he would deliver the message to the prime minister himself and would otherwise keep the talks under wraps.

According to Eldar, Diskin received the document a day after Shalit's abduction, which took place on June 25, 2006. After the abduction Diskin and the two Israelis contacted the European envoy and asked him to ask Meshal for clarifications regarding the contradiction between the abduction and the message conveyed by the document.

The mediator called them back a few hours later, saying Meshal had not known of the abduction near the Gaza border and was shocked by it. Novick and the other unnamed Israeli told the mediator to tell Meshal that Israel would not release prisoners in exchange for Shalit. At best, they said, it might release prisoners only on a humanitarian basis.

The mediator talked to Meshal, who said he would be ready to accept this, but only on the basis of continued discussions between Israel and Hamas over a settlement. But Olmert's public announcement saying Israel would not negotiate with terrorists was tantamount to giving Meshal a negative answer, the book says.

Olmert's aide at the time, Yaakov Galanti, said to Haaretz, "Olmert was never approached by Khaled Meshal in the way you describe, neither before or after Shalit's abduction, neither with ideas for a settlement nor with ideas for a deal as part of a settlement.

"In addition, since this was before Ofer Dekel's appointment as coordinator of the Shalit deal, we asked Olmert's aides who dealt directly with these matters, and none of them knows of any approach by Meshal to the prime minister or of any proposal regarding Shalit or other matters in your question," said Galanti.

Diskin was unavailable for comment.