Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a bitter response Sunday night to a speech by Mahmoud Abbas, earlier in the day, in which the Palestinian Authority president charged that Israel wants to build a temple “on the ruins of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Abbas said this was the “latest battle in the war aimed to erase and remove the character of the Arab-Islamic Jerusalem.”
A furious Netanyahu responded: “Abu Mazen knows full well that there is no foundation to his contemptible remarks, including his baseless and irresponsible claims regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
He added: “This is a harshly inflammatory speech from someone who claims that he is bent on peace. The time has come for the Palestinian leadership to stop denying the past and distorting reality.”
Speaking at the Arab League-sponsored Jerusalem International Conference in Doha, Qatar, Abbas charged Israel with “using the ugliest and most dangerous means to implement plans to erase and remove the Arab-Islamic and the Christian character of East Jerusalem,” according to the Bethlehem-based Ma’an news agency.
The Palestinian leader urged Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem to help preserve its Arab identity.
“This move will have political, moral, economic and humanitarian repercussions, showing that Jerusalem belongs to all of us and no one can stop us from accessing it,” Abbas said.
Abbas also supported taking the issue of Jerusalem to the United Nations Security Council.
Netanyahu countered that “Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, will continue to be open to believers of all faiths. There is freedom of worship for all and Israel will continue to carefully maintain the holy places of all religions.”
The prime minister said a commitment to truth was critical to the peace process: “The State of Israel expects that one who supposedly champions peace would prepare his people for peace and coexistence and not disseminate lies and incitement. This is not how one makes peace.”
The bitter rhetoric underlined the deterioration in relations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. In September 2010, Netanyahu called Abbas his “partner” and spoke at the State Department about his willingness to move “a long way in a short time” toward peace with the Palestinian leader.
Soon after that, peace talks collapsed and efforts to resume them have failed repeatedly since, with Abbas demanding a settlement freeze and the Israeli government objecting bitterly to unilateral Palestinian moves toward statehood at the UN and toward a Fatah-Hamas unity government.