Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was awarded honorary citizenship in Naples, Italy, Saturday in a move that angered the country’s Jewish community.
During a ceremony, Abbas reportedly said he was “honored to be Neapolitan” and urged Israel to pursue the renewal of the peace talks.
“We know that Italy is pushing the peace process and the United States is determined,” Abbas was quoted by Italian news agency ANSA as saying.
Shalom Bahbout, the rabbi of Naples and South Italy, said Abbas “had skeletons in the closet” and was thus undeserving of the award.
”There are beautiful people out there who are worthy of such an honor, and we are not against conferring honorary citizenship on a Palestinian,” Bahbout reportedly said.
“This is not the case with [Abbas], who denied the Holocaust in his university thesis, and who never distanced himself from Palestinian terrorist attacks.”
In 1982, Abbas completed a postgraduate thesis titled “The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement 1933 – 1945” that disputed the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Bahbout suggested that the award also be conferred on President Shimon Peres, who is set to travel to Rome this week to meet Pope Francis I and Italian leaders. He is also slated to receive an honor at the city of Assisi.
Since his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories last month, US President Barack Obama has been advancing an effort to resume negotiations between the two sides.
Chinese news agency Xinhua reported Saturday that Israel has proposed holding a four-way summit to relaunch peace talks.
The report cited a senior Palestinian official as saying that the high-level event would be attended by Obama and Jordan’s King Abdullah as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas.
Abbas reportedly welcomed the proposal, but demanded that Israel first “implement its commitments.”
Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the specifics of the report, as did chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.