Abbas: ‘Jerusalem is the gate of peace and war — Trump must choose’

PA leader stresses Palestinians must only use ‘peaceful’ means to resist, encourages Muslims and Christians worldwide to visit and ‘defend’ Jerusalem

Dov Lieber is a former Times of Israel Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a conference on Jerusalem at the Al-Azhar Conference Center, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, January. 17, 2018 (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a conference on Jerusalem at the Al-Azhar Conference Center, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, January. 17, 2018 (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday renewed his attacks on Donald Trump and on the US president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, cautioning that actions taken in the city could spark a future war.

“Jerusalem will be a gate for peace only if it is Palestine’s capital, and it will be a gate of war, fear and the absence of security and stability, God forbid, if it is not,” said Abbas, speaking at a conference on “global support for Jerusalem.” in the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. “It’s the gate for peace and war and President Trump must choose between the two.”

Calling Jerusalem “the diamond in the Palestinian crown,” Abbas termed Trump’s December 6 declaration of the city as Israel’s capital “sinful” and “ill-fated” and compared it to the Balfour Declaration.

He said the president “claimed falsely and duplicitously that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.” In fact, “the Palestinian or Arab who will compromise on Jerusalem and on Palestine has not been born, and never will be born,” he said.

“Whenever a new American administration comes, it curses its predecessor. How can we trust this great country to act as an arbitrator between us and Israel? We can’t trust it and won’t accept it as an arbitrator,” Abbas said.

While warning of war, the 82-year-old Palestinian leader also reiterated several times that the only way forward for Palestinians to oppose both American and Israeli policies involved peaceful means.

“A popular and peaceful resistance is the path that will succeed and that we will continue on,” Abbas said.

His remarks followed a controversial speech Abbas gave on Sunday in Ramallah, in which he bitterly attacked the US president and other American officials, and issued a series of attacks on Israel, asserting that the Jewish state was a “colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism.”

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Jerusalem, he said Wednesday, “is our eternal capital, to which we belong, just as it belongs to us. He also renewed his call on Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem, adding that doing so would not amount to “normalization” with Israel. “Visiting the prisoner does not mean normalization with the jailor,” he said.

“Don’t abandon us,” he pleaded. “Visits by Muslims, Arabs and Christians lend support to the city, amount to the protection of its holy sites and give support to its (Arab) residents.”

After Trump’s December 6 speech recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Abbas declared that the US could no longer serve as a peacebroker, and instituted a boycott of the Trump administration. The US president initially said his decision merely recognized the reality that Jerusalem serves as Israel’s capital and was not meant to prejudge the final borders of the city, though later he said it had taken the city “off the table.”

“We are in the midst of major challenges and in the face of a major conspiracy aimed at Jerusalem,” Abbas told the crowd of Muslim and Christian clerics at Al-Azhar.

He urged Muslims and Christian worldwide to “defend” Jerusalem, and encouraged members of the two faiths to travel to Jerusalem, stressing that such visits did not constitute “normalization” with Israel.

“We need your support, for you to stand by us,” Abbas said. “No honorable Jew would accept the violations against Jerusalem,” he added, while noting that “there are a lot of honorable Jews.” The PA leader didn’t specify what these “violations” were, but in the past has used to term to mean the “Judaizing” of Jerusalem and restricting of access to the Temple Mount.

Abbas said repeatedly that Jerusalem was a city for Muslims and Christian to live in, without mentioning Jews. At the same time, he said that should Palestinians attain rule over Jerusalem, it would be a city open to all religions, especially the Abrahamic faiths, including Judaism.

“We will resort to all the options but we will not resort to terrorism and violence,” he said. “We have other means, including returning to the masses of our nation to take their role in working for the sake of Jerusalem.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) arrives for a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Abbas highlighted as an example of nonviolent resistance Palestinian protests in Jerusalem last July over security measures placed around the Temple Mount by Israeli police in the wake of a terror attack there.

He also said the Palestinians would go to the International Criminal Court “to defend our right.”

Abbas praised the actions of 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, who has become a Palestinian icon after appearing in a video hitting and provoking Israeli soldiers.

“She attacked and struck an armed soldier and didn’t fear. Now she sits in prison,” Abbas said of Tamimi.

During his speech, he renewed his claim that the Palestinians are the descendants of the ancient Canaanites mentioned in the Bible.

“We’ve remained here and we are not leaving our land,” Abbas said.

An Israeli TV report aired Tuesday night said Abbas had decided to give his earlier fiery address denouncing Israel and the US after Saudi officials informed him of the parameters of Trump’s peace plan, which were overwhelmingly favorable to the Jewish state.

A close associate of the PA president was summoned to Riyadh for an urgent meeting earlier this month. There, the details of Trump’s peace plan, which provides for a “state-minus,” were presented to the Palestinians for the first time, the Hadashot report said.

The plan’s main clauses were as follows: less-than-full statehood for the Palestinians, ongoing Israeli control over security matters, a permanent IDF presence in the Jordan Valley, land swaps not based on the pre-1967 lines, no settlement evacuations, and an Israeli veto regarding the final status of Jerusalem, which would be later negotiated by the parties, the report said.

Saudi King Salman, right, receives Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after he arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 20, 2017. (Al-Ekhbariya via AP)

“We told Trump we will not accept his project, the ‘deal of the century,’ which has become the ‘slap of the century,’” Abbas said on Sunday. “But we will slap back.”

In a statement responding to the Tuesday TV report, the White House called it “regrettable that the Palestinian leadership is looking to create a false impression against an unfinished plan they have not even seen,” according to a Hebrew translation of the statement to Hadashot news.

“We will present our principles directly to Israelis and Palestinians at the right time and under the right conditions,” the White House statement concluded.

In a bid to defuse the tensions, Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, was scheduled to arrive in Israel on Wednesday.

Greenblatt was set to take part in meetings with members of the so-called Middle East Quartet — the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — Channel 10 reported Tuesday.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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