RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – The Palestinians’ chief negotiator on Tuesday denied an Israeli media report that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are holding secret talks.
Israeli media also said officials were surprised to learn that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called off plans to pay Israel and the Palestinian territories a visit next week.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted in recent conversations with government ministers and other political figures that he and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been holding talks, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Tuesday.
The newspaper said the talks appear to be about broader issues relating to Palestinian statehood, rather than confidence-building measures between the two sides.
Saeb Erekat, the leading Palestinian negotiator, called the report “baseless.” “There is no such thing,” he said.
Earlier this year, Abbas and Olmert agreed to Rice’s request to hold talks twice a month. They’ve held one such session since then, but a second meeting was delayed because of Israel’s political turmoil. Olmert is fighting off growing demands that he resign over his handling of last summer’s war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Olmert’s spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, had no immediate response to the reports, but noted that Olmert and Abbas have held several public meetings in recent months.
Abbas and Olmert agreed to form teams that would meet to discuss issues relating to a future state, said a senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized the subject with reporters. The teams haven’t met yet because they haven’t agreed on an agenda, he said.
On the Palestinian side, team members include Erekat, Abbas aides Yasser Abed Rabbo and Rafiq Husseini, and Abbas’ security adviser, Mohammed Dahlan, the official said.