Last updated: 5 September, 2011

Abbas and Barak met in August

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Monday told Israeli intellectuals he had held a series of talks with Israel’s defence minister, the group’s spokeswoman said.

“Abu Mazen (Abbas) said he met with Ehud Barak a number of times, most recently on August 24th, but that he couldn’t talk about the content of the meetings,” Hila Aloni told AFP.

It was unclear how long the two had been meeting or whether their talks dealt with the restart of peace talks, which have been stalled for nearly a year over the issue of Israeli settlement construction.

Israeli Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi, who accompanied the delegation, told AFP that Abbas said he had held two meetings with Barak, the most recent of them in the Jordanian capital Amman.

The Israeli defence ministry had no immediate comment on the reports, which came as the Palestinians gear up to present the United Nations with their bid for membership.

The campaign is fiercely opposed by Israel, which has called instead on the Palestinians to resume peace talks.

The Palestinians say their UN bid does not exclude the possibility of talks but that they will not return to negotiations without a halt to Israeli settlement construction and clear parameters for any new discussions.

Earlier on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated a call for Abbas to resume negotiations.

“He can come to Jerusalem, I could go to Ramallah or we could both go to Brussels,” he said after meeting in Jerusalem with visiting Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme.

A statement issued by the prime minister’s office said Netanyahu stressed the “supreme importance” of holding “direct negotiations with the Palestinians.”

He added that “to his regret, the Palestinian leadership had chosen to refrain from direct dialogue, preferring instead to appeal to the UN, a move which will lead to deadlock,” the statement said.

Aloni said Abbas had told the group of Israelis “of his desire to reach peace,” adding: “When we establish a Palestinian state, peace will prevail.”

The Palestinian leader stressed that the UN membership bid was not intended “to isolate or delegitimise,” she said.

Abbas made his comments to a group of 20 Israeli intellectuals, including artists and writers, who have signed a petition calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.

They presented a copy of their petition, which was signed during a symbolic ceremony in April, to Abbas.