Ex-Justice and Interior Minister Chaim Ramon advised top PA negotiator Saeb Erekat in a private conversation that it would not be worth the PA’s while to enter into direct talks with Israel - in direct contrast with the official Israeli position. MK Michael Ben-Ari says the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) must investigate the matter.
An unidentified man contacted Israel Radio, saying he overheard the conversation in the Jerusalem Colony Hotel dining room three weeks ago. From his detailed reenactment of the talk, it appears that he was able to record it, but he refused to confirm or deny this detail.
Ramon was a controversial left-wing Knesset Member of the Labor Party for more than two decades, and switched to Kadima with Ariel Sharon after the Disengagement from Gush Katif. He resigned from the Knesset a year ago, two years after he was convicted of indecency with a female soldier who asked to be photographed with him.
According to the witness, who said another person was with him at the time, the conversation took place less than two feet away from him.
Ramon reportedly said clearly that he was sent to speak with Erekat by President Shimon Peres. “He said in these words: ‘I was sent by the President of Israel, Shimon Peres,’” the man, whose voice was electronically garbled during the broadcast, related.
The witness said, “It was perfectly clear throughout the conversation that Ramon was sent to advise the Palestinians how to conduct the proximity talks and that it would be pointless to enter the direct talks because in any event Netanyahu will not agree to grant anything to the PA.”
“For instance,” the witness recounted, “Erekat said that the previous prime minister [Ehud Olmert] offered to have 50,000 or 60,000 Arab refugees enter Israel, but the PA demands 100,000 or 200,000. Ramon said that if you [the PA] did not agree then to Olmert’s offer, there is no way that Bibi [Netanyahu] would agree to more. So Erekat said, ‘So what do you propose?’ and Ramon said, ‘Not to enter the direct talks; you won’t get anything anyway.’”
The witness also said that Ramon told Erekat that “if the PA wants more checkpoints to be removed, it must do X, Y and Z.” However, interviewer Ayala Hasson did not ask him to elaborate on what steps Ramon told Erekat must be done.
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union)
“The Jewish section of the Shabak must be called in immediately, in order to arrest and interrogate all those who took part in acts of treachery, from the Oslo Agreements up until this latest act of undermining by Ramon [and] Peres…”
Contacted while abroad from Israel Radio, Ramon first smashed down the phone, then agreed to give this response: “This is a case of distorted hearing. Some of the things never happened at all, and others are things that he thought he heard. I have been meeting for many years with various people in the PA; this is not new. What I say in my talks with them is what I say in the media as well.”
He first said he is not willing to elaborate on his personal meetings, but later denied that Ramon had advised him not to enter direct talks: “It is all an absolute lie. I am against having one of you tell me what to do, whether it’s Chaim Ramon or someone else. The decision regarding direct talks is a Palestinian decision that has been known for a half-year already, unconnected to the meeting with Ramon.”
President Shimon Peres
The office of President Peres acknowledged that Ramon had dined with Peres the night before the said meeting with Erekat, but said that Peres had actually requested that Ramon pressure Erekat to enter direct talks. The statement released by the presidential office stated, “Peres never asked Ramon to meet with Saeb Erekat. The president always meets with senior leaders from around the world, including Palestinian leaders, and does not need intermediaries.”