Speaking to a group of Jewish leaders in New York on Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas commented for the first time publicly on the killings of two Israeli soldiers in recent days, condemning the slayings.
Answering a question posed by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright at a dinner hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, Abbas condemned the murders of Sgts. Gal Gabriel Kobi and Tomer Hazan in separate incidents in the West Bank, as well as all instances of violence against citizens.
He added that he expected Israel to condemn the deaths of four young Palestinians at the hands of the IDF in recent weeks. “Two weeks ago, four young people were killed by the Israeli army near Jerusalem,” he said. “No one said anything.” It was not clear to what Abbas was referring, but on Sept. 17, Israeli forces, believing their lives to be in danger, killed one man and wounded at least one during a raid on a refugee camp near Jerusalem to arrest a fugitive, the IDF said.
Earlier Monday, Fatah central committee member Abbas Zaki claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government were the ones responsible for Kobi’s death, in Hebron. The Israeli soldier was shot in the neck by a Palestinian sniper while on patrol on Sunday.
Netanyahu and “his extremist government” are the cause of the soldier’s death, Zaki said according to an Israel Radio report. Kobi wasn’t “on a sightseeing tour in Hebron,” he added. Hazan was killed on Friday after being lured to a village near Qalqilya by a Palestinian coworker.
A host of former ambassadors, members of Congress, diplomats and dignitaries attended Monday’s dinner with Abbas. The US special envoy for Middle East peace negotiations Martin Indyk was there too.
Abbas, in town for the UN General Assembly, reiterated his commitment to the two-state solution but said that the idea of a binational state is gaining traction among Palestinians.
“We need your support to ensure the successful conclusion of the peace negotiations so that the state of Palestine can live side by side with the State of Israel in peace and security on the ’67 borders,” he said. “I urge the Israeli government to focus on building peace and not building settlements.”
He also said that if a peace agreement were reached, it would be proper for both sides to put any potential deal up for a popular referendum.
Abbas said he was more hopeful now for peace than he was in the mid-2000s. “If you ask me this question during the intifada, I didn’t have an answer,” Abbas said, having posed a rhetorical question about whether the culture of violence between Israelis and Palestinians could change.
“Hatred, guns, killing, it destroyed everything. Now I can say we have something to talk about. When we talk about living side by side, many people listen.”
He said achieving a final status peace deal within nine months — as envisioned by Obama — was “not impossible.”
Abbas noted to the group that six of his eight grandchildren had attended Seeds of Peace, a U.S. program that establishes relationships between youths from Israel, the Palestinian areas, other Arab nations and the United States. “‘I will go again and again and again’,” he quoted one of his grandchildren as saying.
Abbas was expected this week to stick to his promise to US officials and not pursue the Palestinian statehood issue, which he famously brought before the General Assembly last year.
The White House confirmed on Friday that President Barack Obama would have a one-on-one with the Palestinian leader on the sidelines of the UN meeting in order to discuss the ongoing peace talks with Israel.