Abbas to visiting Meretz MKs: Our UN bid is no replacement for peace talks

Statehood move is meant to ‘keep two-state solution alive,’ PA head tells leftwing lawmakers in Ramallah

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Meretz head Gal-On, left, talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah (photo credit: Roy Yellin)
Meretz head Gal-On, left, talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah (photo credit: Roy Yellin)

The Palestinian Authority’s plan to ask the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a non-member state is not a replacement for peace talks with Israel but meant to keep alive the two-state solution, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of prominent Israeli leftwing politicians on Sunday.

Despite a freeze in high-level contacts between Israel and the PA, two MKs from the left-wing Meretz party met Abbas in his Ramallah headquarters. Along with Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, the delegation included MK Nitzan Horowitz and former Meretz MKs Haim Oron, Avshalom Vilan and Mossi Raz, as well as Ilan Baruch, Gal-On’s policy adviser and a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa.

“We want peaceful coexistence with Israel,” Abbas told Gal-On. “Our appeal to the UN is not a substitute for negotiations but rather a means to keep alive the option of a two-state solution.”

Abbas last year applied for UN membership, but the United States made clear it would veto the move in the Security Council. However, the Palestinians, who currently have observer status at the UN, could easily secure a resolution at the General Assembly that would grant them the status of a nonmember state, similar to the Vatican. While Palestine would not have a vote in the General Assembly, it could join the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court.

Gal-On, for her part, slammed the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, telling Abbas that they are no partner in peace for the Palestinians. Still, she told Abbas, there is a “large camp” in Israel “of people who believe in peace and compromise.”

Gal-On said earlier she was traveling to Ramallah to discuss ways to advance the peace process and to distance herself from a controversial letter Liberman wrote to world leaders calling for Abbas’s ouster.

Jerusalem slammed Abbas for agreeing to meet Gal-On, a prominent member of the opposition, saying that peace can only be advanced if the Palestinians engage with Israel’s elected government.

‘It’s not new that the government isn’t capable or willing to advance peace,’ Gal-On told Abbas

In the discussion with Abbas, Gal-On brought up the letter Liberman last Monday wrote to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which he attacked the Palestinian leadership and called for new elections in the Palestinian territories.

“The things Liberman wrote in his letter were embarrassing,” Gal-On told Abbas. “It’s not new that the government isn’t capable of or willing to advance peace, but what’s new is that in order to bury the peace process, he now wants to establish who the Palestinians’ representative should be.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, June 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, June 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Despite criticism from within and without the government, Liberman over the last few days has vigorously continued to call for new elections in the PA to oust Abbas. “In every act of negotiations, there are two basic questions: Can the other side deliver the goods, and what are its intentions?” he said last week. “We are negotiating with Abu Mazen and we expect him to honor his commitments. The first question is whether he is able to do so — a man who doesn’t control the Gaza Strip and for years has been incapable of arranging elections in the PA? Would he be able to honor his commitments toward us, if he ever made any?”

Since peace talks broke down several months ago, the peace process has been stalled, with Abbas refusing to meet Netanyahu or other senior government officials. In June, deputy prime minister Shaul Mofaz — who has since bolted the government and returned to the opposition — said he had scheduled a meeting with Abbas, but the Palestinian president canceled and the two never met.

“Abu Mazen is making a mistake if he thinks that speaking to opposition parties is a substitute for speaking to government of Israel,” a government official told The Times of Israel in response to Gal-On’s Ramallah visit, using Abbas’s nom de guerre. “Three and a half years ago, Netanyahu was elected and during this period, for the most part, Abu Mazen has refused to negotiate,” the official said. “He is not going to make peace or advance the interest of his people if he doesn’t engage with the government of Israel.”

Harsh words for Gal-On came also from elsewhere in the opposition. Kadima MK Otniel Schneller accused Meretz of having become a party that serves Palestinians interests. “Gal-On and her friends from the radical left, with their their blunt and blind positions on the Palestinians, have deliberately chosen to ignore the government’s efforts to promote genuine dialogue, and thus continue to hurt the chances for peace,” he said.

Earlier this month, Gal-On, whose Meretz party currently holds three Knesset seats, told The Times of Israel that she was worried about the future of the peace process since “Netanyahu is no partner.”

Regarding Abbas’s ability and willingness to advance peace with Israel, she said: “I don’t determine who is the leader for the Palestinians. Abu Mazen is their representative. Is he good, not so good — it doesn’t matter. As long as he is the Palestinians’ representative — and he is a moderate — we need to start talking with him again. I am afraid that whoever comes after Abu Mazen will be even worse.”

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