PA foreign minister stresses no recognition for Israel as Jewish state

Abbas: I’ll resume talks if Israel halts settlement activity

In wake of Kerry speech, Palestinian leader ready to restart ‘permanent status negotiations… under specified timeframe’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks during a conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, October 1, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks during a conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, October 1, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday he would be willing to resume peace negotiations with Israel should Jerusalem stop settlement construction and implement existing agreements.

“The minute the Israeli government agrees to cease all settlement activities… and agrees to implement the signed agreements on the basis of mutual reciprocity, the Palestinian leadership stands ready to resume permanent status negotiations on the basis of international law and relevant international legality resolutions… under a specified timeframe,” he said in a statement.

Abbas, his office said, was “fully convinced that a just, comprehensive and lasting peace can be reached in all core issues,” leading to an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The statement added that the PA leader would “continue to cooperate closely with France, which plans to convene next month an international peace conference, in order to guarantee the launching of a credible peace process.”

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. (AFP/Miguel Medina)
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. (AFP/Miguel Medina)

Meanwhile Abbas’s Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki rejected Kerry’s allusion to Palestinians being prepared to accept Israel as a Jewish state.

Maliki said the secretary hadn’t broken any new ground in his speech, and had simply repeated his views and summarized his positions from recent years. However, he noted that Kerry had said that “many… are now prepared to accept [Israel as a Jewish state], provided the need for a Palestinian state is also addressed.” This assertion, Maliki stressed, was “unacceptable.”

Abbas’s response to Kerry’s comments was markedly more positive than that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the speech “skewed” and “obsessive” towards settlements as well as “a big disappointment.”

The prime minister said Kerry drew a “false moral equivalence” between construction in Jerusalem and Palestinian terrorism. Kerry, he said, was only “paying lip service” in his condemnation of terrorism, while the UN resolution did not condemn Palestinian incitement, only “incitement” in general.

Kerry on Wednesday laid out his “comprehensive vision” for the future of Middle East peacemaking, saying that a two-state solution was the “only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” but promising that the US would not seek further UN action on the conflict, days after President Barack Obama infuriated Israel for the decision not to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement activity.

Kerry described settlements as an obstacle to achieving an agreement between the sides and that Israeli actions in the West Bank were putting the two-state solution, which he said was the sole path to peace, “in serious jeopardy.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry lays out his vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians December 28, 2016, in the Dean Acheson Auditorium at the Department of State in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry lays out his vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians at the State Department in Washington, DC, on December 28, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS)

With less than a month left as secretary of state, Kerry sought to champion the two-state outcome he worked to achieve throughout the last four years, saying it was the only path forward. Yet his address comes against the backdrop of incoming president Donald Trump, who has signalled that he may not be committed to the two-state framework.

Kerry also had harsh words for the Palestinians, condemning their incitement to violence and glorification of terrorists, and he slammed the attempt to isolate and delegitimize Israel in the United Nations and elsewhere.

“The murders of innocents are still glorified on Fatah websites,” Kerry said, referring the movement headed by Abbas. “Despite statements by President Abbas, too often they send a different message by failing to condemn specific attacks and by naming public squares, streets and schools after terrorists.”

Ahead of the speech, The New York Times quoted a senior State Department official as saying that it would “address some of the misleading critiques” leveled at the Obama administration after Friday’s vote. This was, the Times said, a “clear reference” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s furious response to the outcome of the vote, in particular the White House’s failure to use its veto.

UN Resolution 2334 says that the settlement enterprise “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law,” and calls for a complete end to all construction in areas Israel gained after the 1967 Six Day War. It also calls on all states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967” — language that Israel fears will lead to a surge in boycott and sanctions efforts, and that an Israeli official warned would provide “a tailwind for terror.”

The text was approved 14-0 with the United States abstaining. A no vote by the US would have meant the resolution didn’t pass.

Since Friday, Israel has accused the United States of working to initiate the resolution, including by colluding with the Palestinians to strategize over its language — an allegation Washington categorically denies.

Eric Cortellessa, Raoul Wootliff and JTA contributed to this report.

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