Abbas rejects regional approach, ‘temporary solutions’ to conflict
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Abbas rejects regional approach, ‘temporary solutions’ to conflict

PA leader tells UN Human Rights Council he's still open to working with Trump, calls for international protection of Palestinians

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas is seen on a TV screen while speaking during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 27, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas is seen on a TV screen while speaking during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 27, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday rejected the idea of “temporary” and regional frameworks for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which have been endorsed recently by the leaders of both Israel and the United States.

Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Abbas said, “It is impractical for the sake of peace and justice to discuss temporary solutions or merge the question of Palestine within the framework of regional affairs as the current Israeli government has attempted to do.

“Palestine today is a fact, and has deep roots within the international community,” he added.

Abbas reiterated his demand that countries that have recognized Israel and support a two-state solution to the conflict should “defend and support this solution by recognizing the State of Palestine.”

The PA leader in December presented that demand directly to the United Kingdom and France, both of which have refused to do so.

His rejection of regional solutions appeared to refer to a high-profile press conference earlier this month at the White House during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump voiced support for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that builds on Israel’s ties with other Arab countries.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Donald Trump (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Netanyahu, who did not explicitly renounce his stated commitment to a two-state solution but avoided mentioning the idea of Palestinian statehood, called for a “regional” approach that included Arab states. He noted that he would be discussing such an initiative with Trump.

In response, Trump said the two had been discussing a regional deal, and noted it “would take in many, many countries.”

“I didn’t know you were going to be mentioning it, but now that you did, it’s a terrific thing,” Trump said. The two men’s comments came amid renewed speculation that Sunni Arab states would be prepared to work with Israel in the face of regional opposition to Iran.

During his speech Monday, Abbas also warned Trump against fulfilling his campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while asserting that he was prepared to work with the American leader to achieve peace despite uncertainty surrounding the type of relationship the US president intends to have with the Palestinian Authority.

“We…reiterate our readiness and willingness to cooperate with all countries, including the US administration of President Trump, toward the achievement of peace on the basis of international law and international resolutions,” Abbas said.

While the new administration in Washington has hosted top Palestinian security figures, it has yet to hold direct political meetings with PA diplomatic officials.

Abbas has called for the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 Saudi proposal that would see all Arab and Islamic states establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel, in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and an agreed-upon solution for the Palestinian refugee problem.

Last year Netanyahu partially endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative, offering to negotiate with the Arab world within the parameters of the plan while noting his objection to many details of the original proposal.

Netanyahu’s endorsement of the initiative reportedly came within the context of a regional plan initiated by former US secretary of state John Kerry that would have seen a renewal of negotiations toward a two-state solution and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a year ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary Of State John Kerry in New York on September 23, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary Of State John Kerry in New York on September 23, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Though Netanyahu backed a regional approach in his press conference with Trump, it emerged shortly afterward that he had rejected one such regional peace plan that had culminated in a secret meeting in Aqaba on February 21, 2016 that he attended along with Kerry; Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Netanyahu rejected Kerry’s initiative because he believed he wouldn’t get approval from his hawkish coalition, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Many politicians in Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition are opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, with some urging the annexation of either part or all of the West Bank. Netanyahu has said recently he has not given up on a two-state solution, but for the time being he is only willing to give Palestinians “not exactly a state with full authority, rather a state minus.”

For their part, both Sissi and Abdullah said last week that a two-state solution to the conflict is nonnegotiable.

Abbas demands international protection for Palestinians

Abbas on Monday also demanded that the UN set up a mechanism to protect Palestinians in light of what he called Israel’s “systematic and widespread human rights violations” against them.

“Today we reiterate our demand for the establishment of an international protection system for the Palestinian people, which will put an end to Israeli violations of Palestinian basic rights,” he said.

The PA leader specifically highlighted a law recently passed by Israel that retroactively legalizes many West Bank settler homes built on private Palestinian land. Abbas called the law “theft” and said it set a “very dangerous precedent.”

He also called on the UN high commissioner for human rights to issue a list of Israeli companies that are found to violate human rights, apparently so they can be boycotted by the international community.

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called Abbas’s demand for a list of Israeli companies “a new record of hypocrisy.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“[On] the same stage where he warns against unilateral actions, he is also calling on the UN to create a blacklist to encourage boycotts against Israel… It is incumbent upon our friends around the world to make the Palestinians understand — there will be a price to the campaign of incitement and delegitimization against Israel.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon similarly criticized Abbas’s remarks at the UNHRC.

“In the peak of hypocrisy, Abbas and the Human Rights Council have joined together in a campaign of incitement against Israel. It is no surprise that this Council, which has long been divorced from reality, has chosen once again to provide a platform for Palestinian smears against us,” said Danon.

“It is time that Abbas and the Palestinian leadership understand that a new era has dawned at the UN in which speeches and one-sided initiatives against Israel will not succeed,” he added. “The only way forward is through direct negotiations with Israel.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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