JERUSALEM — When Israelis and Palestinians renewed peace negotiations this summer, they agreed on only one thing: No talking about the talks.
Now Israel has complained to the United States of alleged Palestinian leaks it claims violate the agreement and aim to pressure Israel, Israeli media reported Sunday.
"The only announcement you will hear about meetings is the one I just made," U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said on July 30th, upon resuming talks in Washington.
Kerry, who brokered the negotiations, told reporters he would be the only one authorized to comment publicly. He stressed that any and all other reports would be unreliable.
For the most part, this worked. The U.S. took the lead on official comments while negotiation teams kept a tight lip, leaving news media in the dark — not an easy feat for the typically chatty political cultures.
But a sudden flurry of reported leaks from the talks might signal a return to the old rules of the game.
Coming mostly from Palestinian sources and Arab media, the latest chatter claims Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to offer the Palestinians 90% of the West Bank (or 60% for starters). Reportedly, Palestinians have rejected what Israel has denied offering.
Another report revealed the dates of the next Palestinian prisoner releases, saying they were not linked to the progress of the talks (Israel said they were), but that either way, the talks were not going well.
"The Palestinian side not only leaks but leaks wrong," an unidentified Israeli official told the newspaper Haaretz, adding that Palestinians showed a "pattern" of negative comments ahead of international gatherings as a pressure tactic.
Wrong or not, the alleged leaks angered Israel and, over the weekend, Israeli negotiators complained to the Americans that the Palestinians were violating the agreement with Kerry, media reported.
According to a report in Haaretz, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu's envoy to the talks, complained to Martin Indyk, the U.S. special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Although the Israeli side has kept fairly silent about the meetings — most of which are laconically confirmed after the fact — a recent report in Israeli media revealed considerable differences of opinion within the team.
According to a late-August report in the Hebrew daily Maariv, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the chief negotiator, favors the "classic" approach of negotiating all core issues simultaneously toward a permanent status agreement.
On the other hand, Molcho — Netanyahu's envoy to the talks — reportedly believes this is a mistake and that Israel should aim for agreements in principle only at this stage.
The Palestinians object to a long-term interim agreement.