RAMALLAH – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the French initiative for an international peace conference aimed at resolving the Middle East conflict.
“Let’s leave everything in the past and let’s meet,” the Palestinian leader said from his headquarters in Ramallah.
Netanyahu has rejected the idea of a peace conference in Paris, insisting that any talks between the two sides should be direct.
“When two sides are invited to a meeting, one cannot present preconditions,” the Palestinian leader said. “It’s the international community that should determine what is right and what isn’t.”
When asked by The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew-language sister publication Ma’ariv why he refuses the Israeli demand to explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas refused to comment.
Abbas, who met with a delegation of Israelis from the left-wing social democratic Meretz party, was asked if he lost faith in Netanyahu and his sincerity in negotiating peace.
“Ever since we started negotiating with the Israelis, we’ve been talking to every prime minister,” the Palestinian leader said. “I can’t say whether I believe him or not or whether I’ve lost faith in him.”
Abbas criticized Netanyahu and his government for continued expansion of Israeli settlements.
“The Israeli government is building settlements on Palestinian land,” the PA chief said. “We will not agree to a situation whereby a new settlement and a new checkpoint are cropping up all the time.”
“The entire world is against settlements,” he said. “This is the position taken by the Americans and the Europeans. There have been 12 Security Council resolutions against settlements. Stop them.”
The Palestinian rais made a direct appeal to Netanyahu.
“When the whip is over my head, you can’t tell me to stop,” Abbas said. “You have to stop. You say that there is no partner for negotiations and that your hand is outstretched for talks. You want to pick someone else [with whom to negotiate]? The Israelis picked you and the Palestinians picked me. I’m a ‘diplomatic terrorist,’ as [former foreign minister Avigdor] Liberman put it. Besides that, there’s nothing you can say about me.”
“Put it all to the side and let’s negotiate,” Abbas said. “We aren’t far apart [physically] and we cooperate on a daily basis. Don’t push us to the wall. We will all lose.”
The Palestinian leader invited Meretz officials to the Muqata for a discussion. Meretz is the only Zionist party that has publicly backed the French initiative.
The Meretz delegation was led by MK Esawi Frej and the party’s secretary-general, Mussi Raz.
“The French plan is a good one since we want the international community to take responsibility for this endless conflict,” the rais said. “We want the whole word by our side. We are one of the last remaining nations that suffer under military occupation. How much longer will this go on? How much longer will the world permit one people to control another?”
Abbas claimed that if Netanyahu refuses to go along with the French initiative, the Islamic State will gain a foothold in the region. A similar sentiment was echoed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault during his trip to the area.
“If there won’t be peace here, the extremists will take over everywhere,” Abbas said. “We are against terrorism and violence and we don’t want them here or in Europe, but if we don’t hurry up [and make peace], all of the extremism in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq will also arrive in Israel.”
When asked about incitement in official Palestinian media and government-issued textbooks, Abbas said: “Yes, there is incitement in our textbooks and on television. Let’s solve the problem and revive the incitement commission that was agreed upon [between Israel and the Palestinian Authority] 16 years ago].”
“The commission [which is chaired by the United States] will determine what needs to be corrected,” Abbas said.