Israel hints back-channel talks launched with Palestinians

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government hinted yesterday that Israel was involved in back-channel contacts with Palestinian and Arab officials despite the collapse of US-brokered peace negotiations last month.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed that centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s main negotiator in the nine months of talks, had met secretly in London this past week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“I think that it’s true that she met (him),” Lieberman told Israel’s Channel 2 television when asked about a report the same station had broadcast on Friday saying the two had met.

Lieberman insisted it had been “a private meeting” and did not mean negotiations had resumed, though his comments were the first official confirmation that the sides were still in direct contact despite the suspension of formal diplomacy.

Livni has confirmed she visited London but aides have declined comment on reports that she met Abbas there. Abbas has also made no comment.

Lieberman said Israel was sticking by its decision of last month to suspend formal talks with the Palestinians over Abbas’s deal to forge a unity government with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Islamist group rejects dialogue with the Jewish state.

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