Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas compared the expansion of Israeli settlements to a “cancer” on Tuesday night and threatened to appeal to the United Nations to halt any new Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“We will not remain patient as the settlement cancer spreads, especially in Jerusalem, and we will use our right as a UN observer state by taking political, diplomatic and legal action to stop it,” Abbas said during a speech in honor of the forty-ninth anniversary of the founding of the Fatah party, according to AFP.
Last week, amid reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to announce additional settlement construction, Abbas met with US envoy Martin Indyk and “asked for US intervention to stop the Israeli government from issuing new settlement decisions in order to save the peace process and the American efforts,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
Should Israel go ahead with the plan, the PA would “no longer remain committed to not joining international organizations,” including the International Criminal Court (ICC), Erekat said last week, according to the Palestinian Wafa news agency.
Israeli news reports anticipated that Netanyahu would issue approval for the construction of 1,400 new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank this week, to coincide with Monday night’s third phase of Palestinian prisoner releases, but no announcement had been made as of Tuesday night. Still, abundant speculation about renewed settlement construction has sparked outrage among Palestinian officials.
In his Tuesday night speech, Abbas also slammed the “Israeli escalation on all fronts” that he claimed had led to “the killing of dozens of citizens in the last few months.” (The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said earlier Tuesday that 27 Palestinians and three Israelis were killed in the West Bank in 2013.)
“These actions show a lack of seriousness on the Israeli side in the negotiations and threaten to destroy the two-state solution,” Abbas said.
Abbas’s remarks came hours after the PA held its weekly meeting in a Jordan Valley village in protest over an Israeli bill that would mandate Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley. The bill passed in a ministerial panel, but was strongly opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is unlikely to be signed into law.
Netanyahu on Tuesday lambasted the Palestinians for celebrating Israel’s release overnight Monday of 26 prisoners.
“The essence of the difference between us and our neighbors can be seen in one picture,” Netanyahu said at the seventh annual Galilee Conference in Tiberias Tuesday, referring to the sight of throngs of Palestinians giving the released prisoners — almost all of them convicted of murder — a hero’s welcome.
In a speech to the prisoners and their families outside the PA’s headquarters, Abbas said there would be “no final agreement with Israel until all of the prisoners are freed.”
“Today is a day of joy for our people, our families and our prisoner heroes,” Abbas said. “We promise that this won’t be the last time that prisoners are released.”
In response to Abbas’s comments, Netanyahu said Tuesday, “This isn’t how peace is achieved.”
Despite the increasingly acerbic exchanges between Israel and Palestinian leaders, US Secretary of State John Kerry was set to arrive in the region Wednesday to present a “framework” agreement for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.