Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) declared Thursday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is Israel’s top enemy, saying the Palestinian leader has consistently refused to recognize the Jews’ right to self-determination and is unwilling to view major cities, such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, as Israel’s territory.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Steinitz responded to comments Abbas made in a key speech Wednesday, during which the Palestinian leader doubled down on his refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and threatened to back away from recognizing the State of Israel altogether.
During his major policy address at the Seventh Fatah Congress in Ramallah, Abbas stressed he “will not recognize a Jewish state,” and said Palestinian recognition of Israel “will not last forever” if Israel does not recognize a Palestinian state.
“It is another sad joke,” Steinitz told the radio station, adding that Abbas recognizes the de facto existence of Israel, but not its right to exist.
“Abbas is talking about stopping his recognition of Israel, but first he should start recognizing Israel. Abbas has never recognized Israel’s right to exist. To this very day he rejects Israel’s right to exist,” the minister said.
“We should not kid ourselves. Abbas in his ideology is the number one enemy of the very existence of Israel. Even more than Arafat,” he added, referring to the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Arafat, who died in 2004 and remains a venerated figure among Palestinians, is seen by many in Israel as an unreformed terrorist who doomed the 2000 Camp David attempt at peacemaking, orchestrated the suicide bombing onslaught of the Second Intifada that followed, and disseminated a still-prevailing narrative among Palestinians that denies Jews’ history and legitimacy in the Holy Land.
Steinitz, considered a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Abbas rejects Israeli control, not merely in the West Bank, but throughout the entire country.
Abbas, he asserted, is of the opinion “that there was no need to establish a Jewish state, that the Jews have no right to their own state. That Jews have no right — not just in Nablus, but also not in Haifa; not just in Ramallah, but also not in Tel Aviv.”
As part of the 1993 Oslo accords, in which Abbas played a major role, the Palestinians recognized the State of Israel. Abbas, however, objects to defining Israel as a “Jewish State,” claiming the definition could compromise the rights of Arab citizens in Israel.
Steinitz’s statement echoed the position held by Netanyahu, who has, for years, highlighted Abbas’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a sticking point dooming all peace negotiations.
In early November, Netanyahu told visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella that Abbas won’t recognize a Jewish state “in any borders.”
Noting that his guest had just met with Abbas, Netanyahu charged that the PA leader “continues to refuse to accept a Jewish state in any boundaries, and this remains the core of the conflict — this persistent Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state in any configuration.”
Abbas, the head of Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority following Arafat’s death in 2004, has consistently called for a negotiated solution for peace and opposes another violent uprising.
During the speech on Wednesday, Abbas did not announce any new policies. Instead, he reaffirmed his commitment to the option of negotiating with Israel to achieve a settlement based on the two-state solution, but rejected any deal that would lead to provisional borders for a nascent Palestinian state. He reiterated his support for the French peace initiative, which seeks an international solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel has said it does not support the French initiative and wants direct talks with the Palestinians.
During his September address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Abbas said Palestinians recognized Israel’s existence in 1993, with the signing of the Oslo accords, but added that “Israel must reciprocate with recognition of the State of Palestine.”
Dov Lieber contributed to this report.