RAMALLAH — The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital but do not seek to divide the city, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday. He also said he did not want to flood Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees.
“We don’t want to redivide Jerusalem,” he told 300 Israeli students and young activists at the Muqata, his presidential compound. “We would leave the city open, and have two municipalities with one governing body above them. This is the meaning of coexistence,” he said to raucous applause.
Abbas also accused Israel’s current government of discriminating against the Palestinians vis-à-vis the distribution of water, claiming that Israelis are permitted to consume 12 times more water than Palestinians. “We are humans, you need to take a shower, I need to take a shower. You need to drink, I need to drink,” he said. “We are similar, why do you take 12 times more?”
The Palestinian leader admitted that anti-Israeli incitement exists and that it needs to be confronted. However, he argued that the Palestinians for years have been willing to discuss incitement in a trilateral committee with the Israelis and the Americans, but that such efforts had failed due to Israeli obstinacy.
“There is incitement on my side, I admit it. I admit it, but let’s discuss it. And the Israelis don’t want to admit it,” he said. In order to talk fairly about incitement, which he said exists on both sides, “a referee” from a third party was needed. “Incitement is a germ that would harm the atmosphere and the desire for peace, so let’s remove it. We want to remove it but we haven’t heard any response” from the Israeli side, he said.
Abbas also responded to claims made last week by Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who had called him the world’s worst anti-Semite. “Not the second or third worst, but the worst anti-Semite,” Abbas said, without mentioning Steinitz’s name. Why? What am I saying? I recognize the state of Israel. Where is the anti-Semitism? I go everywhere around the world. Wherever I go, I meet the Jewish leadership, in New York, AIPAC, Washington DC, London, Paris, South Africa, Latin America, Canada, everywhere. We want to make peace with you, so we meet with everyone. A person who says this about me, frankly, does not want peace.”
The PA president also vehemently protested the often-made claim that he denied the Holocaust in his doctorate, lamenting that rumors to that effect continue to be spread by his opponents. “How do I deny the Holocaust? Did you read the book? No. So read the book and see if I have denied the Holocaust. I have written about it and I know that millions of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.”
Abbas also asserted that he would not demand that five million Palestinians refugees and their descendants enter Israel “to destroy” the state, but insisted that the refugee problem needs to be addressed. “All that we said was, come let’s put the refugee question on the table, because refugees is a topic that must be resolved to bring an end to conflict. But we do not seek, and we will not seek, to flood Israel with millions in order to change its social culture. This is nonsense that you read in the Hebrew media and elsewhere,” he said.
(Last month, speaking to a group of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Abbas said that he could not negotiate away the absolute right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to sovereign Israel, and expressed other hard-line positions on core issues.)
During Sunday’s unprecedented meeting of Israel students from across the country, organized by Labor MK Hilik Bar, the chair of the Knesset Caucus for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict and the One Voice organization, Abbas reiterated his willingness to sign a peace agreement with Israel, but largely insisted on his well-known positions on the core issues. He refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, saying that he recognizes the State of Israel and that had to suffice.
While he stressed that the Palestinians do not want to return to violence, he expressed frustration at what he termed Israeli policies that would obstruct the peace process. “When you say, ‘This is my land,’ where do you want me to build my state?” he asked. “When I sleep, I’m afraid to wake up and see an outpost here in the presidential compound,” he said.
During a Q&A session, he attacked Israel for allowing settler violence to continue unabated. “It’s a big shame on you, what settlers do against us; without any reasons they come and kill, uproot trees,” he said. “The slaughter us, they kill my sheep and my livestock. It’s a shame on you. And by the way, every time we take one step toward peace it takes us back 20 steps, because our people wonder, what is peace with these people?”
Despite occasional outbursts of frustration and anger over Israeli policies, his core message to the students and young political activists was that only a two-state solution could bring peace to both peoples.
“There is no other solution in this region except peace,” he said. “I received more than one indication from Hamas that they would stand behind me in case of a peace agreement.”
Abbas refused to say what the Palestinians would do if no agreement is reached in April, at the end of the nine months slated for the current negotiations. “If peace does not happen at the end of this nine months,” he said, “we are not going to go back to violence, but put yourself in our shoes and tell us what to do.”