TEL AVIV – Senior Palestinian officials on Monday categorically denied reports that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow.
Earlier on Monday, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted the Palestinian embassy in Moscow as saying that during a meeting in Amman with Russia’s Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, Abbas expressed readiness to take part in direct talks with the Israeli prime minister.
The Putin-hosted talks would have been the first meeting between the two leaders since 2010.
However, a senior Palestinian Authority source close to Abbas swiftly denied the Russian report.
According to The Times of Israel, the source said Ramallah is awaiting a commitment from Israel regarding preconditions, including a settlement freeze and a prisoner release deal. Before such preconditions are met, there will be no meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu.
Another source from Abbas’s office also denied the report, telling The Times of Israel that “we don’t want a meeting just for the sake of a meeting, but something to advance the peace process.”
Netanyahu’s office on Monday released a statement saying that Bogdanov and the prime minister had discussed the idea of a meeting.
“The Prime Minister presented Israel’s position that he is always ready to meet with President Abbas directly and without preconditions,” the statement read. “He is therefore reviewing the Russian President’s proposal and the timing of a possible meeting.”
According to the TASS news agency, the largest in Russia, Bogdanov said “formats, dates and venues” for a meeting were being ironed out.
“The work goes on, contacts are in progress. Different options of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement are being explored, including personal contacts,” he said.
“Vigorous efforts in all directions are being made,” he added.
On Tuesday, Bogdanov is slated to meet with PA officials to convey Netanyahu’s response.
Netanyahu has said he is willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem. If he’d like, in Ramallah. Right now. Today.”
However, while Abbas said on Israeli television that Netanyahu is “the partner” for peace and he would be willing to meet with him “at any time,” the Palestinian leader continues to insist on preconditions.
In recent weeks, Israeli officials have maintained that Jerusalem will not accede to such preconditions “just for the privilege of a meeting” with Abbas.
There is speculation that Russia is vying to replace the U.S. as the main outside power in the Middle East.