PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat on Sunday denied reports that he proposed to start secret negotiations with Israel last summer.
The statement from the PLO official came shortly after the Israeli Broadcasting Authority published on its Reshet Bet website that Erekat had proposed secret negotiations, but that Israel had turned down the offer.
According to unidentified sources in the Israeli report, Erekat had made the proposal during a meeting on July 24 in Jordanian intelligence offices in Amman with the outgoing Israeli minister Silvan Shalom, who was in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians.
Reshet Bet also said that Erekat and Shalom met again three months later in Cairo where Shalom notified Erekat that the Israeli government rejected his proposal about secret negotiations.
The PLO official confirmed in a statement that he met with then-Israeli Vice PM Shalom in Amman and Cairo in July and August, but that he had not asked for secret negotiations.
The two reportedly discussed Palestinian demands regarding a return to negotiations, which were then rejected by Shalom during the meeting, Erekat said. Erekat added that he demanded a return to 1967 borders, the release of prisoners, as well as an end to settlement expansion.
The PLO official said that Israeli leadership is attempting to “claim to the US congress” that Palestinian, not Israeli leadership, is responsible for a continued freeze in negotiations.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s office also denied the Reshet Bet reports, saying that Israel has always been willing to start negotiations but it was the Palestinian side who refused.
The potential importance of the meeting between Erekat and Shalom was not made clear in the statement, and Shalom resigned from his position as vice PM earlier this month following multiple allegations sexual harassment.
Erekat took office in July as Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee, prompting speculation that he is being lined up to succeed Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president. The secretary-general has made several appearances on the international stage in recent months, participating in interviews with Israeli and European news outlets.
Following renewed violence that began in October and continued through December, representatives from the UN, US, and Middle East Quartet have visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in attempt to restore calm.
While Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas have both acknowledged in recent months that they would be willing to meet, Palestinian and Israeli leadership have not met face to face for negotiations since peace talks collapsed in April 2014.
Attempted peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leadership have been ongoing for decades and are largely viewed as having failed to make any progress towards ending the decades-long military occupation by Israel.