Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
have been maintaining a secret channel of talks for several years now, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday.
Attorney Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu's confidant, has been traveling to London from time to time and meeting with one of Abbas' associates. This back-channel diplomacy includes an exchange of messages and ideas and is aimed at solving problems troubling both sides.
The channel was highly significant during Netanyahu's previous term, when there were no official negotiations. Both Netanyahu and Abbas have kept the talks confidential in order to avoid political pressures.
Netanyahu and Abbas. Informal dialogue (Archive photo: Reuters)
After the renewal of peace talks
brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the importance of the secret channel diminished, likely prompting Netanyahu to inform some of the Israelis and Americans involved in the talks about the back channel.
One of Yedioth's sources indicated that Bassel Aqel, a Palestinian businessman living in London, may be Abbas' representative to the secret talks. Aqel is a close friend of the Palestinian president. This estimate has no definite confirmation, but different sources have confirmed the existence of the channel, the identity of the Israeli representative (Molcho), the location (London) and the fact that the channel has been active since the previous government's term.
There are three goals to back-channel diplomacy: Solving daily problems on the ground; preparing the ground for a major diplomatic breakthrough; and creating an impression among those involved in the secret talks that there is an interest in making political progress while the formal negotiations are deadlocked.
The dialogue conducted by Molcho on the secret channel is not focused on solving problems on the ground, as that is what the official channels between the IDF and Civil Administration and the Palestinian security organizations are for. The question whether the secret talks prepared the ground for a breakthrough and to what extent remains open. Throughout Netanyahu's previous term Abbas had refused to resume the negotiations. He only agreed to do so this year following Kerry's heavy pressure.
It appears, however, that both Netanyahu and Abbas had an interest in holding a dialogue through their confidants behind the back of Israeli and Palestinian officials, internal political systems and foreign government. This interest bridged the huge gap existing between them on other issues.
The full story will be published Friday in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily