Abbas invites African nations to join in peace process
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Abbas invites African nations to join in peace process

PA leader, in speech to African Union in Ethiopia, appears to castigate Trump for alleged 'shithole' comment

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: Mahmoud Abbas, center, at the African Union summit on June 14, 2015. (AFP/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)
Illustrative: Mahmoud Abbas, center, at the African Union summit on June 14, 2015. (AFP/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday called on African countries to join an international mechanism that would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, after the United States, according to Abbas, “excluded” itself as a peace broker by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Peace efforts require the establishment of an international multilateral mechanism under the umbrella of the United Nations, and we call on the African Union and its member states to be represented in this mechanism,” said Abbas, speaking before the African Union in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.

Abbas added that he wanted the African nations to participate in an international conference to be organized on the basis of “international legitimate decisions,” and on the principle of “a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, the end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian state, which includes East Jerusalem, the capital of our state, which we want to be open for all the Semitic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism.”

During his speech, the Palestinian leader repeated the charge that Israel is attempting to change the “identity” of Jerusalem and is harming non-Jewish holy sites in the city.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas gives a press conference following his meeting with South African president, on November 26, 2014, in Pretoria, as part of his first official visit to South Africa. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/STEFAN HEUNIS)

“The city of Jerusalem is subject to a fierce attack aimed at changing its spiritual identity, its character, its historical places, and is abusing Islamic and Christian holy sites,” he said.

Israel rejects any notion that it’s harming holy sites, and backs the status quo for sacred spaces in Jerusalem, maintaining that throughout recent history free access to the holy sites has been guaranteed only under Israeli rule.

Abbas took the opportunity of his speech at the summit to ask all countries not to establish diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

Following US President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Palestinian leadership declared that Washington could no longer fulfill the historic and central role in the peace process it has held for over two decades.

Instead, Abbas is now seeking a new international framework through which the Palestinians can win an independent state. The main players in that arena, from his point of view, are the EU, the UN, Russia and China.

Last week, European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said Brussels was ready to take a “central role,” alongside the United States, expanding the international role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

Abbas on Sunday said Trump’s decision “made the United States a biased side for Israel,”and that the US had “excluded itself as a mediator for the peace process.”

The Palestinian leader also appeared to castigate Trump for allegedly referring to African nations as “shithole countries.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) is welcomed by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini prior to attend a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

“We condemn any offense aimed by any side at the friendly African nations and their peoples,” Abbas said.

“The struggle against colonialism, racism and injustice and the affirmation of the right of peoples to self-determination are common issues between Palestine and the peoples of the African continent. We count on your steadfast position on the question of Palestine,” added Abbas.

Both Israel and the Palestinians over the past year have been exerting efforts to win over diplomatic support from African nations.

Ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos, Trump said the US would no longer provide aid to the Palestinians if they refused to engage in US-brokered peace talks with Israel. He also said he’d taken Jerusalem “off the table” with his December 6 recognition of the city as Israel’s capital — a move that led the Palestinians to freeze ties with the US.

The Palestinians rejected the threat, saying peace talks were “off the table” if the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was not reversed.

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the president’s latest remarks showed “the US has disqualified itself from playing a role in achieving peace” and that his Jerusalem decision was a “wakeup call” to Arab leaders.

“Jerusalem is not off the negotiations table; rather the US is outside the international consensus. Those who say that Jerusalem is off the table are saying that peace is off the table,” said Erekat. “There will be no peace without East Jerusalem being the sovereign capital of the State of Palestine.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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