Peace talks in a Lon­don kitchen

Ab­bas and Peres held se­cret talks in Hamp­stead home of An­glo-is­raeli bil­lion­aire

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY MARTIN BRIGHT

SE­CRET PEACE talks be­tween Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres and Mah­moud Ab­bas, the pres­i­dent of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity, took place in Lon­don, the JC can re­veal.

The en­counter was hosted over din­ner by UK busi­ness­man Poju Zablu­dow­icz at his north Lon­don home.

It was mod­elled on the se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions ar­ranged by the late lawyer Lord Mish­con be­tween Mr Peres and King Hus­sein, in ad­vance of the peace treaty be­tween Is­rael and Jor­dan in 1994.

There has been con­sid­er­able spec­u­la­tion about the se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions, but the JC can now con­firm that the meet­ing took place in March dur­ing Mr Ab­bas’s of­fi­cial visit to the UK.

No rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the UK gov­ern­ment or the Is­raeli em­bassy were present dur­ing the meet­ing, which was con­ducted un­der the high­est lev­els of se­cu­rity, al­though the JC un­der­stands the For­eign Of­fice was aware i t took place and gave it its bless­ing.

The UK gov­ern­ment’s line is that peace in the Mid­dle East will ul­ti­mately come t hrough di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans, and that such “free­lance” ini­tia­tives should be en­cour­aged from a dis­tance.

Mr Ab­bas ar­rived in Lon­don on March 7 and held meet­ings with David Cameron the next day. The visit co­in­cided with the up­grad­ing of the Pales­tinian del­e­ga­tion in Lon­don to a “diplo­matic mis­sion”.

Mr Peres flew in se­cret to Lon­don for the talks.

Mr Zablu­dow­icz is chair­man of BICOM, the Bri­tish-based Is­rael ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tion, but the din­ner was hosted in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity. His own­er­ship of the pri­vate in­vest­ment group, Ta­mares, makes him one of Bri­tain’s rich­est men and he and his wife are renowned art col­lec­tors. Var­i­ous sources close to Mr Zablu­dow­icz con­firmed his in­volve­ment at the heart of the process.

Mr Zablu­dow­icz has also acted as an in­ter­me­di­ary in ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Is­rael and Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad be­fore events in Syria es­ca­lated.

Only the clos­est ad­vis­ers to Mr Peres and Mr Ab­bas were present dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions. Is­raeli sources sug­gest the meet­ing was part of a se­ries of four be­tween the two men.

Mr Zablu­dow­icz was un­avail­able for com­ment.

The 1990s se­cret meet­ings held at Vic­tor Mish­con’s home were con­sid­ered vi­tal to ham­mer­ing out the peace deal be­tween Is­rael and Jor­dan and pro­vided the model for the lat­est ne­go­ti­a­tions. At a cru­cial point in the talks the two prin­ci­pal play­ers were left alone to talk in to­tal con­fi­dence: “The way it worked was that one was given the tea towel, and the other did the wash­ing-up, so to speak,” said one source close to the process. The de­gree of se­crecy sur­round­ing the four meet­ings be­tween the two lead­ers was such that not even some of Mr Peres’ most se­nior aides were aware that they had met at Mr Zablu­dow­icz’s home in Lon­don.

Se­nior gov­ern­ment sources con­firmed the meet­ing and three oth­ers at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions and that all had taken place with the knowl­edge and au­tho­ri­sa­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

“Peres and Ne­tanyahu were com­pletely co-or­di­nated be­tween them,” said one of the sources.

How­ever, at the week­end, re­ports in the Is­raeli press sug­gested that Mr Ne­tanyahu had in­ter­vened

to close off the chan­nel in re­cent weeks. No gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial has openly con­firmed the meet­ings. Mr Peres cel­e­brated his 88th birth­day on Tues­day and in an in­ter­view with IDF Ra­dio he would only say: “I will con­tinue to work in ev­ery per­mis­si­ble way for an Is­raeli-Pales­tinian agree­ment”.

The highly con­fi­den­tial na­ture of the meet­ings is a demon­stra­tion of just how stalled the of­fi­cial peace process has be­come in re­cent months. The sit­u­a­tion is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive for Mah­moud Ab­bas, who has pub­licly stated that ne­go­ti­a­tions can not be­gin un­til set­tle­ment build­ing in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is halted.

At the Pales­tinian mis­sion in Lon- don, an of­fi­cial noted that the Pales­tinian pres­i­dent had never said that ne­go­ti­a­tions should defini­tively stop.

Yossi Alpher, for­mer di­rec­tor of Is­rael’s Jaf­fee Cen­tre for Strate­gic Stud­ies said: “That a se­cret meet­ing had to be held be­tween men who have met pub­licly many times in the past, re­flects the cur­rent bank­ruptcy of the process.” Anshel Pf­ef­fer con­trib­uted to this re­port

PHOTO: REUTERS

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