Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent moderate comments regarding peace terms were an attempt to “interfere with [Israeli] elections on behalf of the Left,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio on Sunday morning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, similarly skeptical, said that if Abbas “really” want to progress toward peace, he would come back to the negotiating table. Netanyahu, at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, renewed his call to Abbas “to come back right away to the negotiating table without preconditions.”
In an interview broadcast on Israeli television on Thursday, Abbas said the Palestinians had no territorial claims on pre-1967 Israel, that he had no “right” to return to his birthplace in Safed — located in northern Israel — and that there would be no third armed intifada so long as he led the PA. He urged a swift resumption of peace talks.
Liberman said Abbas’s answers in the Channel 2 interview were meant “to help the Left, [Labor Party leader] Shelly Yachimovich and [Meretz party leader] Zahava Gal-on, his natural allies, who represent Palestinian interests within the State of Israel.”
The foreign minister’s negative response was the latest in a host of comments by Israeli politicians across the spectrum in the wake of the interview. President Shimon Peres hailed Abbas’s remarks as “brave” and requiring Israeli reciprocation, while Netanyahu on Saturday night had dismissed Abbas’s interview as a case of “empty” rhetoric.
The foreign minister added that Abbas doesn’t say the same things in Arabic that he does in English, and that Israelis who failed to see through the tactic were deluding themselves. “The attempt to lie to ourselves [about Abbas's moderation] amazes me every time,” Liberman said.
In October 2011, immediately after the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than a thousand Palestinian security prisoners, Liberman said, Abbas spoke to his people in Arabic about “land theft, ethnic cleansing and stealing national resources. He spoke about the [newly released Palestinian] terrorists who murdered Jews in cold blood — and called them heroes.”
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar also reacted negatively to Abbas’s statements, saying on Saturday that the Palestinian leader spoke and acted in contradictory ways. The Palestinians continue their attempts to receive unilateral UN recognition for “Palestine” and have attempted other unilateral moves, proving they wish to avoid the negotiation table, Sa’ar said.
On Sunday, opposition leader Shaul Mofaz remarked on Israel Radio that there was no progress in negotiations with the Palestinians during Netanyahu’s four years in office and that “Netanyahu doesn’t believe in a permanent arrangement and isn’t interested in one.”
“It’s the actions that count,” he added.
Instead of advancing peace and a two state solution, Netanyahu has made the option of a bi-national state with no Jewish identity closer than ever, Mofaz said.
Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich praised Abbas’s statements on Saturday and blamed a “lack of an Israeli leadership” for the absence of an agreement with the Palestinians.
On Saturday, Peres called the Palestinian leader’s statement “brave and important,” saying they demonstrated that in Abbas, Israel has a genuine peace partner.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, dismissed the PA chief’s rhetoric, saying it was meaningless and constituted “empty promises.”
“Generally, I can say that if Abu Mazen is really serious and intends to advance peace, as far as I am concerned, we can sit together immediately. Jerusalem and Ramallah are only seven minutes apart; I am ready to start negotiations today,” he said at the cabinet meeting Sunday morning.
“I have heard that he has already managed to go back on his remarks. This only proves the importance of direct negotiations without pre-conditions. Only in direct negotiations will it be possible to clarify what the true positions are,” Netanyahu said.
“Peace may be advanced only around the negotiating table and not via unilateral decisions in the UN General Assembly, which will only push peace further away and will only lead to instability.”
Abbas’s answers caused bitterness among some Palestinians; In Gaza, a Hamas-organized protest saw thousands take to the streets on Saturday night.
“He is afraid that if he insists on a third Intifada, they [the Israelis] will murder him like they poisoned Arafat,” Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar told Army Radio on Saturday. “With this statement, Abu Mazen is essentially saving his own life — but at the same time is gambling with his reputation.”