Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he won’t pre-judge Israel’s right-wing leadership Tuesday, pointing to previous hawkish governments that reached peace agreements and apparently signaling support for statements made in Jerusalem seemingly backing a two-state solution.
Abbas’s statement to Israeli municipal officials visiting Ramallah came a day after newly installed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lent partial support to the Arab Peace Initiative, and seemed to contradict a top Palestinian official’s dismissal of the Israeli overtures as just a PR campaign.
“You don’t need to judge a man by his national affiliation or by his views, but only by his stance on the peace process,” said Abbas, according to accounts carried in Hebrew- and Arabic-language press. “The Israeli right has the ability to initiate the peace process, but we ask that all Israelis believe in peace with the Palestinian people.”
The PA leader noted that former prime minister Menachem Begin, a leader of the right-wing Likud party, made peace with Egypt.
Liberman, a brash hardliner who has accused Abbas in the past of being a “diplomatic terrorist,” was sworn into office Monday, speaking out in favor of a two-state solution in a speech interpreted by many as an attempt to calm consternation about his appointment.
On Tuesday, he told army brass that national unity was more important that holding onto territory, as he vowed to prevent unnecessary future conflicts and end ongoing “wars of attrition.”
“I’ve said this before: When there is a clash of values between the unity of the people and territorial integrity, the people are more important,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, chief Palestinian negotiator and top Abbas aide Saeb Erekat rejected the comments by Netanyahu and Liberman.
A statement from Erekat’s office described the position adopted by “war minister” Liberman and Netanyahu as “new public relations strategies promoted by the occupying government to shield Israel from having to adhere to the will of the international community and distract from its continued settler-colonial policies and rejectionist positions.”
Abbas also spoke out in favor of the Arab Peace Initiative, which was first put forward by Riyadh in 2002, but has languished since, with Israel regarding the peace plan as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition it couldn’t possibly embrace.
In 2013, the Arab League showed some flexibility in allowing that, to reach a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps could be possible.
On Monday night, Netanyahu said the plan “contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” going further than he has before in showing support for the initiative.
“We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in our region since 2002 but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples,” Netanyahu said Monday night, making his statement first in Hebrew and then repeating it in English.
Standing next to Netanyahu Monday night, Liberman said he fully endorsed the prime minister’s statement, including his call for an agreement leading to two states for two peoples.
“I certainly agree that in the Arab Peace Initiative there are some very positive elements that will enable us to conduct serious dialogue with our neighbors in the region.”
On Friday, a French peace conference, to which the Israelis and Palestinians were not invited in its first stage, will convene in Paris. Israel has rejected the Paris peace push, calling for direct talks with the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have backed both the French initiative and efforts by Egypt to revive talks.