Middle East Monitor / February 21, 2023
A secret communication channel that has been operating for more than a month between the offices of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been reported by Israel’s Walla news website.
This is the first time that direct contact has been revealed between the two leaders since the formation of the latest occupation coalition government. According to Walla, the US administration of President Joe Biden is aware of the secret channel, but it is not clear whether all leaders of the parties in the coalition are aware of its existence, or of what the two sides have discussed.
In the weeks before the government was sworn in, the Palestinian Authority Minister of Civil Affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh, apparently sent a message to Netanyahu’s office via Washington, to the effect that the PA was ready to work with the new far-right government. Al-Sheikh who is also secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee, delivered the message again after the government was sworn in, and emphasized the PA’s desire to hold talks.
Netanyahu’s office responded positively, and appointed National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi to cover the Palestinian file. He was authorized to hold talks to try to prevent any escalation of tension.
Hanegbi and Al-Sheikh have spoken several times on the phone and also met. The most recent meeting between them took place a few days ago. It focused on confirming understandings between the two sides. This led to the postponement of a vote against the occupation in the UN Security Council.
A senior Israeli official told the site that although these are not political negotiations with the PA, it is very important to have a direct communication channel to convey messages and resolve differences and problems on the ground in a way that guarantees the prevention of escalation.
Referring to the understandings with the PA today during a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations held in Jerusalem, Hanegbi confirmed the existence of talks with the PA about stopping unilateral measures.
“There were discussions with the Americans and also with us on creating some kind of a new environment by stopping the unilateral steps that were taken in recent months,” he explained. “We are ready for it.”
Hanegbi added that Israel has asked the Palestinians to stop taking steps towards legal procedures against the occupation state at the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice.