PLO Executive Committee Member Ahmad Majdalani said Tuesday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had planned to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow without preconditions.
“President Abbas did not set any preconditions to meet Netanyahu in Moscow,” Majdalani, who also is a top aide to Abbas, told The Jerusalem Post.
Until Tuesday, Palestinian Leadership had insisted that Israel freeze settlements and release prisoners before any meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu.
Majdalani’s statement came hours after Abbas said he had accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to meet Netanyahu in Moscow on Friday in Moscow.
“President Putin proposed that we meet in Moscow on September 9 and I agreed to that,” Abbas said during a joint press conference in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
However, Abbas said the meeting will not take place because Netanyahu asked to postpone it.
“It was assumed that I would go from here to Moscow to meet Netanyahu, but unfortunately Netanyahu suggested postponing the meeting and I do not know until when.
“However, I am ready to meet tomorrow or any agreed upon date because this dialogue between us and the Israelis is very important to me regardless if it takes place in Moscow or another place,” the PA president added.
Abbas made no mention of the two conditions for talks that Palestinian officials have mentioned repeatedly in the past: a settlement freeze and the release of the fourth batch of prisoners who were to have been released in 2014 had the John Kerry-led negotiations run their full course.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu, speaking in The Hague at a press conference alongside Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, had a different take.
Asked about Abbas’s claim that he postponed a meeting in Moscow, Netanyahu said he was prepared to meet Abbas at any time for direct talks without preconditions.
“I have said this hundreds of times and I am reiterating it now,” he said. “I do not care about the place – be it in Holland, Moscow or anywhere else – this is not a problem, and it certainly could be in Moscow. I have said this to President Putin. I said this to his envoy [Mikhail] Bogdanov.”
Netanyahu said the question was whether Abbas is prepared to meet him without preconditions.
“We hear contradictory reports about this,” the prime minister said. “Just yesterday, Palestinian spokespersons made it clear that they are ready to meet but they have conditions – releasing prisoners, they want to know if the talks will have results, et cetera. If Abu Mazen is ready to meet for direct talks without preconditions, I am ready at any time. I have been calling on him to do this for almost seven years already and if he agrees to do this – there will be a meeting.”
The two men last met for talks in 2010.
Rutte, in comments he made alongside Netanyahu after the meeting, did not address the issue of a meeting, but did discuss the diplomatic process, saying the two-state solution needed to be preserved.
“First and foremost,” he said, “that means that settlement building needs to stop, and so do demolitions and incitement.”
He added that trust between the two sides is at an “all time low” and that both sides need to take steps “to create a positive climate in which credible negotiations are possible.”
Netanyahu, who is accustomed to hearing sharp criticism from European leaders about the settlements, did not respond to Rutte’s remarks, focusing instead on the role Israel was playing in the war against jihadism that was threatening Europe.
“Radical Islamist terrorists are spreading murder and misery across the Middle East, and now deep into Europe, as well,” he said. “The epicenter of the slaughter is in Syria and Iraq where some 50 million people have been subjected to unimaginable misery. Half a million have already been butchered, countless others have been made homeless and of these, millions are streaming into Europe. If militant Islam is not stopped at the Middle East, the refugee crisis will only get worse.”
Netanyahu added: “Defeating militant Islam everywhere in the Middle East is critical for the security of our region, of Europe, of the world.”
Acknowledging that the Netherlands is doing its share in this effort, he stressed that Israel – as a powerful force of stability and security in the Middle East – was not only defending Israel, but “also helping to defend Europe.”
In its fight against Islamist terrorism, he said, “the Netherlands has no greater friend than Israel.”
Netanyahu welcomed comments by the Dutch premier that the Netherlands had invested in a feasibility study for a gas pipeline project from Israel to Gaza.
Netanyahu, who also met Tuesday with Dutch King Willem-Alexander, is scheduled to return to Israel on Wednesday following meetings in the Dutch parliament.