April 26, 2011 - 12:00am

An alleged meeting between Israel's chief peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, in which details of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's diplomatic initiative were reportedly discussed, had never taken place, Netanyahu's bureau clarified in a statement issued Tuesday.

"No secret meeting was held and reports regarding its content are clearly baseless," the statement read.

The statement followed a report in Kuwait's national daily Al Jarida earlier in the day, which purportedly exposed details of Netanyahu's Mideast peace policy speech before the U.S. Congress in late May.

According to the report, Netanyahu is expected to announce a dramatic offer, which includes Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state within temporary borders with east Jerusalem as its capital, as well as a partial recognition of Palestinian refugees and measures to solve their plight.

Regarding the status of Jerusalem, considered a core issue in negotiations that have taken place over the years, Netanyahu is allegedly willing to agree to sharing sovereignty in the holy basin under the auspices of the United Nations, the United States and Russia.

Attorney Molcho had already shared the main details of Netanyahu's initiative with Erekat in a meeting claimed to had taken place in Jerusalem of late, asking the latter to bring them before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, said the report, which quoted an unnamed source.

The source added that Israel is mulling a one-year timeframe for the full implementation of Netanyahu's initiative, seen as an attempt to counter a planned speech on U.S. Mideast policy by President Barack Obama.

Direct U.S.-sponsored peace talks broke down last September following Israel's refusal to extend a 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Since then, Israel has been under increasing international pressure to resume the process, with relations between the Jewish state and the U.S. administration, its staunchest supporter, reportedly sinking to unprecedented lows. Palestinian efforts to obtain an official declaration of statehood at the United Nations in September, is another major source of apprehension currently felt by Israel's political echelon.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu received with relief an official invitation by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint meeting of Congress. The premier is also scheduled to address a conference of the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, on the same week.

Despite the sweeping denial by Netanyahu's office, the Al Jarida report claims that the Israeli premier plans to invite Kadima, the main opposition party, to join his coalition government following the speech before Congress.

In case Kadima refuses, he will announce early elections, putting his peace plan to the test at the ballot box.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017