'In one school, we found 70 kids with knives. We told them it was a mistake'

Despite everything, Abbas tells Israelis, peace is attainable

In rare TV interview, Palestinian leader says Netanyahu still a ‘partner’ for talks; PA security forces are preventing knifings; and while there’s incitement in PA media, Israel incites too

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talks to Channel 2 in an interview aired on Thursday, March 31, 2016 (screen capture)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talks to Channel 2 in an interview aired on Thursday, March 31, 2016 (screen capture)

The Palestinian Authority president reached out to Israel on Thursday, saying he opposes near-daily Palestinian attacks on Israelis and suggesting the violence would stop if the defunct peace process were to resume.

Israel has accused Mahmoud Abbas of failing to condemn the wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces that erupted in mid-September, and says his PA hierarchy presides over incitement to violence against Israel.

The attacks, mostly stabbings but also shootings and car-ramming assaults, have killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. Over the same time, at least 188 Palestinians have died by Israeli fire. Israel says most were attackers, and the rest died in clashes with security forces.

In a rare, candid interview with Israeli Channel 2’s “Uvda” program, Abbas said the violence stems from “lack of hope, lack of trust” in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict. He also said that if peace talks resume, it would “give my people hope and nobody would dare go and stab or shoot.”

US-mediated Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Abbas said Netanyahu is “the partner” for peace, and called on the prime minister to meet with him “at any time.”

“I want to see peace in my lifetime,” he said.

As for the current situation, Abbas said the security cooperation between the IDF and Palestinian security forces continues and that if it were not for his forces, the violence would be much bloodier now. He denied that he is encouraging Palestinian youth to stab Israelis and said that Israelis are unaware of his security forces’ efforts to prevent stabbings.

He said PA police have raided schools and confiscated knives from students and told them not to carry out attacks. “In one school,” Abbas said, “we found 70 boys and girls who were carrying knives. We talked to them about it and told them it was a mistake. ‘We don’t want you to kill and die. We want you to live and the other to live.’”

But he added that the Palestinian Authority is “on the brink of collapse,” and warned of “chaos” if the security cooperation between the PA and Israel were to stop. “There will be rifles and explosions and armed militants everywhere,” Abbas said.

He said he is sticking to his demand that the IDF stop all operations in West Bank cities that are officially under Palestinian control per the Oslo Accords. Recent security talks collapsed after the Palestinians rejected Israel’s offer to stop operations in Ramallah and Jericho as a test; the Palestinians said the offer did not go far enough.

“Give me responsibility for the Palestinian territories, and test me… If Israel has specific intelligence information, give it to me and I’ll handle it,” he said. “But they don’t give me the intelligence information. So what am I doing here? Where is the security cooperation? You want me to be your employee, your agent. I don’t accept this, I want to do it myself.”

Abbas commented on recent news in Israel and the West Bank, lingering on the case of an IDF soldier who shot and killed a disarmed and severely wounded Palestinian attacker in Hebron. The soldier, who was charged with manslaughter on Thursday, has won considerable support among parts of the Israeli public. Abbas said he had seen video footage of the incident, and that although he was “greatly saddened” by it, he did not hold all Israelis responsible for such incidents.

“I know, the Israelis are human beings, they’re human,” he said. “But sadly, we’ve heard about the reactions and demonstrations in Israel against trying that soldier, and arresting him. Such statements disturb and frustrate us greatly.”

Abbas acknowledged that there was some incitement to violence in Palestinian media, but countered that the same was true of media and public figures in Israel. He invoked Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef’s recent statement that non-Jews who don’t follow certain laws should be deported to Saudi Arabia. (Yosef later retracted the statement, saying it was “theoretical.”)

Asked about the future prospect of a Palestinian state existing in peace alongside Israel, Abbas said: “I hope so. I still extend a hand to Mr. Netanyahu because I believe in peace. I believe that the people of Israel want peace and that the Palestinian people want peace.

“Either we, the politicians, will do it, or we can leave it to the people. They’ll do it within a week.”

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