Report: Israel Held Talks With Unauthorized Palestinian Envoy

Covert negotiations between Isaac Molho and unnamed Palestinian negotiator reached agreements on borders and refugees, but not Jerusalem, the New Republic says.

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U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, left, meets with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 2013, shorty before diplomacy froze.
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, left, meets with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 2013, shorty before diplomacy froze.Credit: AP

Israel reportedly made "substantial progress" toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians in secret back-channel talks with a negotiator who did not have a mandate from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to a report in the New Republic, prior to and during U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Israeli negotiator Isaac Molho negotiated with an unnamed Palestinian official – and the two reached agreements on borders and refugees, but not Jerusalem.

The talks collapsed when it became clear the Palestinian negotiator did not have the backing of Abbas, according to the article published Wednesday by Amir Tibon, the diplomatic correspondent for Israeli news site Walla!

"Abbas’s supposed representative was in fact holding these talks without a real mandate from the Palestinian President; the concessions he discussed with Molho didn't represent the President's views," Tibon writes. "Parts of this story remain unsolved—most importantly, why this lack of a mandate was missed or ignored in real time."

The secret talks began in 2010 between Molho, an attorney and confidante of Netanyahu, who also represented Israel – with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – at the U.S.-brokered talks, and a confidante of Abbas’ whom the magazine said it did not name for fear for his safety. The talks also were shepherded by Dennis Ross, then-special foreign policy adviser to President Obama.

According to the New Republic, the negotiators "came up with a formula in which Israel would accept the 1967 borders (with land swaps that would allow it to annex some large 'settlement blocs'). In return, the Palestinians would show flexibility regarding Netanyahu's insistence on recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people (while clarifying that such recognition would not abridge the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens)."

This formula, the report said, "included a huge concession from each side—Netanyahu's representative accepting the same borders Bibi had spent decades rallying against, and Abbas's supposed representative coming to terms with an Israeli demand that the Palestinian president had rejected time after time, on every possible stage."

The negotiators also discussed the Palestinian refugee issue and reached creative wording acceptable to both sides. They could not reach an understanding on Jerusalem, according to the magazine.

However, according to Tibon, Israeli, American, and Palestinian officials said it was a mistake to think the Palestinian negotiator would have the authority to make concessions on such issues. "One senior Palestinian official told me that those in the American and Israeli camps who thought otherwise were 'fools,'" Tibon writes.

Abbas announced at the end of 2013, as the U.S.-backed peace talks were failing, that there were no secret, back-channel negotiations, causing concern in Israel.

“Perhaps what the Israelis considered a serious back channel, the Palestinians — including their man in the room — saw as merely an unofficial exchange of ideas,” the New Republic article said. “Only two people can really solve the mystery, Yitzhak Molho and his negotiating counterpart. Both of them refused to comment.”

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