Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday backed away from his claim that rabbis had called to poison Palestinian water, saying he hadn’t intended to offend Jews, after Israel and Jewish groups said his statements were promoting blood libels and anti-Semitic tropes.
“After it has become evident that the alleged statements by a rabbi on poisoning Palestinian wells, which were reported by various media outlets, are baseless, President Mahmoud Abbas has affirmed that he didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world,” his office said in a statement.
In his speech to the Parliament of the European Union in Brussels on Thursday, Abbas claimed accusations of incitement by the Palestinians were unfair as “The Israelis are doing this as well… Certain rabbis in Israel have said very clearly to their government that our water should be poisoned in order to have Palestinians killed.”
A story reported in the Turkish press earlier in June claimed a rabbi had made such a call, though the story was quickly debunked.
His office said he “rejected all claims that accuse him and the Palestinian people of offending the Jewish religion. [He] also condemned all accusations of anti-Semitism.”
Abbas did not walk back his assertion, also contained in his EU speech, that terrorism worldwide would be eradicated if only Israel withdrew from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel excoriated Abbas on Thursday as a peddler of lies, with the Prime Minister’s Office saying he “showed his true colors” and “is lying when he claims his hand is outstretched in peace.
“Israel waits for the day Abbas stops peddling lies and inciting [against Israel]. Until then, Israel will continue to defend itself against Palestinian incitement, which fuels terror,” the statement said.
In his speech earlier Thursday, Abbas cited recent criticisms of the current Israeli leadership by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and former prime minister Ehud Barak in condemning Israel’s “never-ending provocations” and “fascist policies.”
Ya’alon took issue with Abbas’s mention of him, accusing the Palestinian leader of taking advantage of “true, healthy, democratic dialogue that exists in Israeli society (and that does not exist in his).”
Abbas, said Ya’alon in a Facebook status, was “lying, as usual, and continuing to propagate blood libels against Israel,” and was proving yet again that he was never interested in an “agreement that recognizes the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”
Earlier Thursday, Abbas refused to meet with Rivlin, who was also in Brussels and who addressed the European Parliament a day earlier.
US-based Jewish groups joined the fray in denouncing Abbas, with the Anti-Defamation League accusing Abbas of making a speech that “interspersed claims of an interest in reconciliation with Israel with base allegations against the Jewish state, which are reminiscent of age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes.”
“Unfortunately, conspiratorial incitement by the Palestinian Authority is not new,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, adding that Abbas’s “charges of an Israeli effort to poison Palestinian water, and claims of Israel serving as the root of terrorism worldwide, are particularly disturbing and significant.”
The American Jewish Committee also issued a sharp rebuke of the PA president, calling him a “great disappointer” who “abused an international platform to deliver yet another tirade full of invectives and falsehoods against Israel.”
AJC CEO David Harris said that “Abbas’s malicious attack contradicts any attempt he made to verbally offer a hand for peace. Indeed, Abbas demonstrably held back his hand both by his remarks, and by rejecting an EU request that he meet with President Rivlin.”
In his speech, Abbas said the Palestinian Authority supported efforts to reach a two-state solution as outlined in the current French peace plan and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, and dismissed calls for an interim agreement.
“We reject any suggestion of temporary borders or an interim agreement because it’s a waste of time and does not lead anywhere,” he said.
“We favor a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, and the solution will be based on the Arab Peace Initiative that was approved in 2002 with no changes to it,” Abbas continued. “Our hands are extended with a desire for peace, we have the political will to achieve peace.”
An international conference aimed at resurrecting the stalled peace talks, to be held later as part of the French plan, must include a “set schedule for negotiations and the implementation of decisions, and constitute a mechanism for the implementation and monitoring of the decisions, as happened in the negotiations with Iran,” he said.
The Palestinian leader also claimed that “once the occupation ends, terrorism will disappear, there will be no more terrorism in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world.”
He accused Israel of turning “our country into an open-air prison.”
Abbas went on to press EU lawmakers on why Israel was “free to act with impunity” and was not held accountable under international law.
“Why is international law not being applied in the case of Israel?” he asked to applause by MEP lawmakers.
The European Union has been pressing hard to get the stalled Middle East peace process back on track based on a two-state solution.
EU foreign ministers on Monday backed a French initiative to call an international conference on the Middle East aimed at restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks, which have been deadlocked since 2014.