Israel and PA Held Back Channel Negotiations

Report reveals that Israel and PA held secret peace talks from 2010; collapsed when it was realized negotiator didn't have Abbas' backing.

Cynthia Blank ,

Yitzhak Molcho
Yitzhak Molcho
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Israel and the Palestinians held secret back-channel negotiations to achieve a "two-state solution" deal even while official US-brokered negotiations were faltering, the New Republic revealed Wednesday in a first time report. 

The secret talks began in 2010 between Yitzhak Molho, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's attorney and point man for negotiations, and a confidante of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who could not be named for security reasons. 

Veteran peace process negotiator, Dennis Ross, then special foreign policy advisor to US President Barack Obama, came in to foster the discussion. 

"Substantial progress" was apparently made toward crafting a final agreement.

According to the understandings, Israel would accept the 1949 armistice lines with mutual land swaps. In return the Palestinian Authority would be flexible in recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, with the clarification that the rights of Arab citizens in Israel would not be harmed. 

The secret negotiations also discussed the "Palestinian refugee" issue and reached creative wording acceptable to both sides. They could not, however, reach a complete understanding on Jerusalem, deciding to postpone the issue for later negotiations. 

Ross tried to make these discussions more prominent with the Obama administration in 2011 but found little success, according tot he report. The secret channel talks were not particularly interesting to Washington nor to Netanyahu and Abbas, who gave no public signs of accepting the proposal. 

As a result, Molho and his counterpart began to meet less frequently. 

However, in 2013, when US Secretary of State John Kerry began pushing for official new peace talks, Molho and his Palestinian counterpart also renewed their back channel in a European capital, meeting every few weeks. 

While the official negotiations stalled thanks to arguments, mistrust, and other distractions, the secret channel was gaining momentum. Molho and his counterpart were reconstructing their plans from 2010 and transforming it into an outline of terms for a serious final status agreement. 

Kerry, Martin Indyk, the US envoy for peace talks, and Tzipi Livni, the head Israeli negotiator, were all aware of the back channel negotiations, and were being briefed regularly on its progress. But Israeli officials began to believe that the official Palestinian negotiators had no knowledge of this back channel. 

In December 2013, the fundamental flaw of of the secret negotiations exploded: Abbas' so-called representative was holding the talks without a real mandate from the Palestinian Authority, and the concessions he had discussed did not represent the real views of the PA Chairman. 

At this time, an Israeli news article reported that during Netanyahu's previous term in office (2009–2012), Molho had a "secret Palestinian contact" with whom he exchanged messages between Abbas and Netanyahu. 

While Netanyahu's office did not comment, Abbas forcefully announced that "there is no secret channel with Netanyahu, and never was one." 

His statement raised concern in Israel, who had taken seriously the back channel talks. Abbas' subsequent detachment from the compromises made in these secret talks, which Kerry attempted to incorporate into the official negotiations, saw the fizzling out of negotiations in the spring of 2014. 

As the New Republic concluded, "“Perhaps what the Israelis considered a serious back channel, the Palestinians — including their man in the room — saw as merely an unofficial exchange of ideas." 

"Only two people can really solve the mystery, Yitzhak Molho and his negotiating counterpart. Both of them refused to comment."