Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently held secret talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization in his home, former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami told a stunned panel of parliamentarians in the Knesset on Monday morning.
“I want to reveal a secret. We held negotiations with Bibi Netanyahu with the help of the United States,” Ajrami said during a Geneva Initiative event on the peace process that included 30 parliamentarians from six parties.
“They sat together for many hours,” he said, speaking in Hebrew. “[PLO Secretary-General] Yasser Abed Rabbo negotiated directly with Netanyahu in [the prime minister’s] home.”
Officials from the Prime Minister’s Office denied Ajrami’s statements, stating that claims that Netanyahu held secret talks with Palestinians in his home were “untrue.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) told her faction that no such talks had taken place since Netanyahu’s third government was sworn into office in March.
Ajrami insisted that the talks had taken place both in statements he made at the Geneva Initiative panel and separately to The Jerusalem Post.
But he refused to specify when such secret negotiations had occurred, stating only that it had been “recently.”
“We were supposed to receive an answer from Bibi Netanyahu [on the question of whether he would] accept the principle of two states on the basis of 1967. But until now he has not responded,” Ajrami said.
He explained that he had shared this information to refute continued Israeli claims that the Palestinians do not want to negotiate.
Palestinians have insisted that they will hold direct talks with Israel only if it freezes all West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem and accepts a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines.
Israel has refused to cede to that request. It has called on Palestinians to negotiate without preconditions.
Since March, US Secretary of State John Kerry has visited Israel and Palestinian territories five times in an effort to break the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians and rekindle negotiations.
Ajrami, however, said that negotiations must have a clear objective that has been set from the start.
“[Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] does not have a mandate to hold talks that will turn out to be a waste of time,” Ajrami said.
Israel is under the misconception that the Palestinians have forgotten about the 1967 lines, Ajrami said, adding that no Palestinian has done this.
He warned that if Kerry failed in his efforts, violence would break out and the Palestinians would pursue unilateral statehood at the United Nations.
He urged Israel to accept the modified Arab League Plan of a two-state solution based on pre-1967 lines with minor land swaps of equivalent value.
Ajrami warned that the offer might not stay on the table for long, given the regional turmoil.
“What people believe in today, they might not believe in tomorrow,” Ajrami said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) said it was important to resume talks and added she hoped this would happen soon.
“There is no alternative to direct talks, not for them and not for us,” Livni said.
“Time is working against those who believe in a two-state solution – on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides,” she added.
“The longer time passes without talks, the more likely it is that we will find ourselves at the point of no return. As long as the window of opportunity is open, my task is to do everything possible to come to a final status solution,” Livni said.
Kadima Party head MK Shaul Mofaz charged that Netanyahu had no intention of concluding a peace deal with the Palestinians.
A new political camp has to be formed to ensure that the peace process moves forward, he said.
Khalil Shikaki, who directs the Center for Palestinian Policy and Research in Ramallah, said, however, that in the past decade Palestinian public opinion has turned against a negotiated two-state solution.
Palestinians believe that Israel wants to annex the West Bank, and as a result they think the only way to ensure statehood is through diplomatic warfare with Israel, Shikaki said.