President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday expressed regret over Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to meet with him this week in Europe, calling Abbas’s ongoing avoidance of meetings with Israeli leaders “strange.”
Rivlin made the comments during a joint press conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, after the three met in Brussels.
He argued that face-to-face negotiations were the best way forward toward a final peace agreement.
“Direct talks is the only possible way to build trust to restore the condition for a peace perspective between Israelis and Palestinians,” Rivlin said. “There are no shortcuts or detours in the Middle East. On a personal level, I must say that I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas — my friend Abu Mazen — refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders, and turns again and again to the support of the international community.”
Earlier this week Rivlin’s foreign affairs adviser confirmed that EU officials had asked him if he was willing to meet with Abbas while both men were in Brussels.”
“We can talk. We can talk directly, and find a way to build confidence…. I was happy to welcome the initiative by the representative of the EU to set up a meeting between me and President Abbas, who is also visiting Brussels on this very day,” he said.
“I was very sorry to learn he rejected such a meeting. We will not be able to build trust between us if we don’t begin to speak directly and look at what we can do and what can be done, and not at what cannot be done. And there is a lot, a lot, to be done.”
Rivlin also addressed an upcoming report, prepared by the Middle East Quartet — comprising the United Nations, United States, European Union, and Russia — on stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, which is expected to be critical of Israel over its role.
“I truly hope this report will take Israel’s perspective into serious consideration,” he said. The country, he said, was obligated to protect its citizens, “not as a right… but as a duty.”
Rivlin was in Brussels for a round of meetings with EU leaders, and addressed the European Parliament on Wednesday. Abbas gave a speech to the same plenum on Thursday, taking Israel to task for a series of grievances.
Earlier in the week Rivlin met with European Council President Donald Tusk and with the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.
According to a Tuesday report on the Ynet news site, it was Schulz who pitched to Rivlin the idea of a meeting with Abbas.
Rivlin and Abbas were initially supposed to stay in the same hotel during their time in Brussels, the report said, but when the arrangement was publicized, the Palestinian delegation quickly found an alternate location.
The EU has recently renewed efforts to push Israelis and Palestinians toward talks on reaching a peace agreement, while positioning itself as a significant element in negotiations.