British Jews cancel meeting with Abbas in wake of pressure from Netanyahu 24Jan12 January 24, 2012

Haaretz  -  23 January 2012

Jewish community leaders in Britain canceled a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to London last week after Israel pressured them to do so, according to two senior Israeli officials.

The officials said representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Israeli Embassy in London had pushed for the meeting to be called off, while the British government sought to convince the Jewish leaders to hold the meeting.

“The message from Jerusalem was that since Abu Mazen [Abbas] doesn’t want to meet with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, there’s no reason for the Jewish community to give him legitimacy for free,” one of the sources said. “In the wake of this message, many of the invitees said they wouldn’t come, and the event was canceled.” Netanyahu’s bureau denied the report, while the Israeli Embassy in London refused to comment.

The meeting was supposed to be one of several Abbas has held with Jewish leaders around the world in an effort to increase pressure on the Netanyahu government to move forward with peace talks. Such meetings have taken place in various cities around the world, including New York, Washington, Paris and Buenos Aires.

Abbas did hold two private meetings, one with about 10 businesspeople, some of them Jewish, and the other with Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and the billionaire chairman of Clinique Laboratories.

Lauder, whose meeting was also attended by Latin American Jewish leaders, said Jewish and Palestinian communities around the world could help achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. He reportedly told Abbas that Judaism advocated making peace with one’s neighbors.

Lauder used to be one of Netanyahu’s major donors and was considered quite close to him; but in the past year, Netanyahu got angry at Lauder, one of the owners of Channel 10, for failing to keep the television station from airing an investigative program charging the prime minister with using private donations for luxury flights and hotel stays. Lauder also recently criticized Netanyahu for failing to move forward with the peace process.

One of the participants at Abbas’ meeting with businesspeople was Jewish billionaire Poju Zabludowicz, the chairman of the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre, a pro-Israel British lobbying group better known as BICOM. Zabludowicz hosted a meeting between Abbas and President Shimon Peres several months ago.

Abbas’ meeting with Zabludowicz and other businesspeople was organized by Sir Ronald Cohen, the chairman of the Portland Trust and Bridges Ventures investment company that encourages business ventures in the West Bank and Gaza.

Efforts to arrange a public meeting between Abbas and Jewish leaders in Britain began several weeks ago, when British Foreign Office officials and Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian envoy to London, asked leaders of the Jewish community if they would meet with Abbas, the Israeli sources said. Jewish leaders were also invited to 10 Downing Street for their first meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron’s office and the Foreign Office had pushed the Jewish leaders to meet with Abbas, the sources said. They said members of the Jewish community had asked Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to London, for the Israeli government’s opinion.

Taub asked Isaac Molho, Netanyahu’s envoy for the peace process, for his opinion. Taub was later asked to tell the Jewish leaders that Israel would prefer that they reject Abbas’ invitation, the sources said.

Meanwhile, Molho met with Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, in Amman on Saturday night, their fourth meeting in two weeks. The two, however, failed to make any progress in setting conditions that would enable them to continue negotiating after January 26, the date on which the Palestinians say they will walk away from the table if Israel does not impose a settlement freeze, a Palestinian official told the AFP news agency.

The official said the Palestinians used the meeting to demand the release of more than 23 imprisoned Palestinian officials, including Palestinian parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik, a Hamas member who was arrested by Israeli forces on Thursday. The demand also called for the release of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat, the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the official told AFP.

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