JERUSALEM - Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas allegedly held secret talks meant to reach a formula that would enable the stalled peace process to resume, and the Palestinians to abort efforts to unilaterally seek United Nations recognition of statehood in September.
The negotiations between Peres and Abbas were "real, prolonged and confidential," Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported on Sunday.
Peres and Abbas reportedly relayed messages via envoys, in telephone conversations and had met in London a short while before Peres met with United States President Barack Obama in Washington earlier this year.
The meeting with Obama came after Peres personally asked to brief the president on new ideas for renewing peace talks, which had reached an impasse briefly after they were launched last September.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have authorized Peres to conduct talks with Abbas. The report cites unnamed sources close to Peres as saying that according to an agreement reached between him and Abbas, Netanyahu was slated to include a dramatic announcement, perhaps some concession to the Palestinians, in his U.S. Congress speech last week that would had enabled a breakthrough in the deadlocked talks.
"Peres and Abbas had already agreed to meet again if Netanyahu would act according to plans. They would then write up the final outline of a joint Israeli-Palestinian formula," Ma'ariv quoted a source as saying.
The plan, however, did not materialize after Netanyahu made a last-minute decision to backtrack on the agreement, most likely in light of the Fatah-Hamas unity accord signed in Cairo on May 4.
The President's Residence in Jerusalem declined to comment on the report over the weekend, saying that it does not "respond to rumors."
Netanyahu's bureau said that the prime minister and Peres are "coordinated on diplomatic activity."
A senior official close to Peres told newspaper that the president is "shocked" by the publication of details of his London meeting with Abbas, fearing that the direct back channel to the Palestinian leader will close following the report.
Israeli right and left-of-center lawmakers slammed Peres over the weekend over his alleged behind-the-scenes maneuvers, saying he was acting out of his jurisdiction.
Ilan Gilon, who heads the left-wing Meretz faction, said it was improper for Peres to serve as a "track for bypassing negotiations. Peres was not elected (as president) in order to serve as political adviser to the prime minister." (Xinhua)