At Arab League, Abbas accuses Netanyahu of not ‘believing in peace’

At Arab League, Abbas accuses Netanyahu of not ‘believing in peace’

PA president urges Arab states to help the Palestinians overcome a major budgetary shortfall; says US-Palestinian security cooperation is ongoing despite aid cut

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Arab League member states at the grouping's headquarters in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on April 21, 2019. (MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Arab League member states at the grouping's headquarters in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on April 21, 2019. (MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a meeting of Arab diplomats on Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not believe in peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Abbas’s comments to a gathering of Arab foreign ministers and officials at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo came as speculation has ramped up over a US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expected to be unveiled in June at the earliest.

Reports have indicated the plan will not include Palestinian statehood, and Ramallah, which has vowed to reject the blueprint, has sought Arab backing for its position.

“[Netanyahu] does not believe in peace… We know—through his positions, statements and insinuations—that he does not believe in peace between us and them,” the PA president said shortly after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

The Palestinians have long said that any peace must lead to the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. In late February, Netanyahu stated that a Palestinian state “will endanger our existence.”

Abbas derided the Trump Administration’s positions regarding core peace process issues, and claimed that President Donald Trump had backtracked on support for a two-state solution on the advice of his aides.

Detailing what he said was a conversation he had during a meeting with Trump, Abbas said: “I asked the president, ‘Do you believe in a one-state or a two-state solution, one state or two states?’ He replied: ‘I believe in a two-state solution and I’m prepared to say so publicly. I’m prepared to declare right now my support for a two-state solution.’ And then one of his senior advisers said: ‘Mr President, wait on that.’ And he said, ‘Okay.”

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)

Castigating the imminent Trump proposal, Abbas complained, “I ask myself: What is left for them to present us, for us to expect or even for us to be happy with? They took Jerusalem and the occupied territories. They cancelled the refugees. They legalized the settlements. And the territories are no longer occupied. So, what remains?”

Israeli officials have frequently declared that Abbas is not a partner for peace.

Netanyahu has said he will look at the expected American plan with an “open mind,” while Abbas, whose administration has boycotted Washington’s peace efforts, has vowed not to consider any US proposal.

US officials have urged that both sides approach the plan with an open mind, and some Palestinian officials have recently said they will read over the expected plan before taking a position on it.

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump and the president’s son-in-law, told foreign diplomats last week that the anticipated plan will be publicized in June, at the earliest.

In an interview published on Friday in Sky News Arabic, US Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt warned both Israel and the Palestinians against rejecting Trump’s peace plan, and said both sides needed to be prepared for direct negotiations.

He also there would be elements of the deal that each side would be satisfied with, and parts each would dislike.

Also in comments published on Friday in Sky News Arabic, a senior official in the White House, who was not named, dismissed the use of the term “two-state solution.”

France’s outgoing ambassador to the US, Gérard Araud, said in an interview published on Friday that the White House plan will be “very close to what the Israelis want,” and is 99 percent “doomed to fail.”

In his speech Sunday, Abbas also appealed to Arab states to assist the Palestinians in overcoming a major budgetary shortfall.

“A [financial] safety net must be provided,” Abbas said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event in Jerusalem honoring the families of Israeli soldiers killed in battle, on April 14, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In February, Israel started to implement a new law that allows authorities to withhold taxes from Ramallah every month equivalent to the amount that they determine the Palestinians pay to security prisoners, including terrorists, and the families of dead terrorists.

The Palestinians have protested the law, refusing to receive any of the taxes Israel gathers for them on a monthly basis, as long as the Jewish state does not transfer them their full amount.

The taxes Israel collects and transfers to the PA make up hundreds of millions of shekels, more than half of its monthly budget.

PA Finance Minister Shukri Bishara has announced that Ramallah has undertaken a a series of austerity measures to mitigate the impact of the lack of funds on government operations, including the slashing of public employee salaries.

In March, many PA employees received only half of their salaries.

The World Bank warned last week of an economic crisis if the issue is not resolved.

Despite tensions with the US, Abbas said security cooperation with the US was continuing.

The State Department recently stopped providing aid to the PA security forces at Ramallah’s request.

Ties between the PA and the Trump administration have deteriorated steadily since the White House recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and initiated the relocation of its embassy in the Jewish state to the city.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, has said that the Palestinians can no longer accept aid from the US because of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, a new American law that could subject the PA to millions of dollars in lawsuits if it takes Washington’s assistance.

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