'Kadima chair to PA: No direct talks'

Witness claims Haim Ramon advised Erekat against negotiations.

haim ramon thinks 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haim ramon thinks 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Kadima council chairman Haim Ramon advised Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat three weeks ago not to enter into direct talks with Israel, an unidentified witness to Ramon’s and Erekat’s July 8 conversation at the capital’s American Colony Hotel told Israel Radio anchor Ayala Hasson on Thursday.
The conversation took place two days after US President Barack Obama, in a press conference at the White House with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, pleaded with the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table.
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The Palestinians ended up rejecting direct talks, despite pressure from Obama and permission from the Arab League.
At Monday’s meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanyahu accused politicians on the Left of “systematically sabotaging the start of talks with the Palestinians.”
Sources close to him said later that day that he had been talking about Ramon, and they said on Thursday that the witness proved that Netanyahu had been right.
“There is no point in starting direct talks, because Bibi won’t agree to anything,” Ramon told Erekat, according to the witness. “There is no way the prime minister of Israel would agree to accept 100,000-200,000 Palestinian refugees.”
The witness, who sat close to the two men, said that Ramon had spoken like an adviser to Erekat when discussing specifics in the proximity talks, often using the word “we.”
Ramon responded that his words had been twisted. He said some of what he had been quoted as telling Erekat was inaccurate, and the rest had been misinterpreted. He said he often met Palestinian officials, but he told them the same things he said publicly, and added that the PA certainly did not make decisions based on conversations with him.
“This attempt to harm me based on the words of someone who says he heard things is grave,” Ramon said.
Sources in Kadima went further and suggested that Netanyahu might have sent people to eavesdrop on Ramon or used state intelligence agents to try to make it look like Kadima was advising the Palestinians to wait for a better deal from a Kadima administration following the downfall of Netanyahu’s government.
“A lot of things in the story don’t make sense and smell really bad,” an influential Kadima official said.
Erekat called the report a lie and said the fact that he met with Israeli politicians did not make them advisers.
“Don’t throw us into dirty Israeli politics that I don’t want to be part of,” he said. “I don’t receive advice or instructions from Haim Ramon. I don’t let anyone tell me what to do or not to do. We don’t need Haim Ramon to help us make our decisions.”
The witness said Ramon had told Erekat that President Shimon Peres had sent him to meet with him.
Peres’s office responded that he had met with Ramon the day before and that Ramon had told him he would be meeting with Erekat, but that Peres did not need to pass on any message to Erekat, with whom he speaks regularly. Peres is an outspoken supporter of direct Israel-PA talks.
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni’s office said she would meet with Ramon following his return from overseas on Friday before she would respond on the issue.
Opponents of Ramon and Livni in Kadima and on the Right used the report to bash both of them.
Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh said she was ashamed by the report and that she would insist on holding a Kadima faction meeting to discuss it.
“An Israeli leader cannot undermine Israel’s interests,” Kadima MK Otniel Schneller said. “If he did, he is not worthy of being Kadima council chairman or a public representative. If this is how we intend to return to power, we are unworthy of returning to power.”
Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev called on coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin to draft the required number of lawmakers’ signatures to call a special Knesset session during the summer recess to discuss the matter.
Elkin called on Livni to fire Ramon immediately for “an act of betrayal that crossed red lines and brought Israeli politics to the level of prostitution.”
By contrast, former Meretz head Yossi Beilin castigated the critics for what he called “a witchhunt.”
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.