EU mum on Abbas speech because ‘we don’t comment on comments’
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Israel sees double standard, as EU often condemns its policy

EU mum on Abbas speech because ‘we don’t comment on comments’

‘Our partners know very well where we stand,’ Brussels says after Palestinian leader accuses Europe of using Jews for a ‘colonial project’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) speaks with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini during a press conference following their meeting at the European Commission in Brussels on March 27, 2017. ( EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) speaks with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini during a press conference following their meeting at the European Commission in Brussels on March 27, 2017. ( EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

The European Union remained silent on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s controversial address this week in which he accused Europe of having exploited its Jews for a “colonial project,” saying it wouldn’t respond to speeches.

“Our policy is not to comment on comments,” an EU spokesperson in Brussels told The Times of Israel.

“However, the EU reiterates its firm commitment to the two-state solution and to its existing, longstanding policies. A negotiated two-state solution, which fulfills the aspirations of both sides, is the only realistic way of bringing the lasting peace and security that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve,” the spokesperson said Wednesday night.

The EU routinely issues condemnations of Israeli plans to build housing units beyond the 1967 lines, arguing that such moves are illegal under international law and diminish the prospects of peace. The union was also very vocal in condemning the US administration’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

It was slow, however, to speak out on recent anti-regime protests in Iran, leading Israeli critics to accuse it of a double standard.

“Our position is based on the Oslo Accords and on the international consensus embodied in UN Security Council Resolutions,” the spokesperson said, referring specifically to United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 of 1980, which condemned Israel for annexing East Jerusalem.

“Our partners know very well where we stand and we have made it very clear. We have also made clear what we expect from both sides,” the spokesperson said.

Abbas delivered a particularly fiery speech on Sunday to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council in Ramallah, attacking US President Donald Trump and rejecting his administration’s bid to broker a peace deal with Israel.

During the speech, Abbas, who is due in Brussels next week for meetings with the EU, also laid out his views of the origin of Zionism at great lengths, portraying the Jewish people’s national liberation movement as a European plot against the Palestinian people. He asserted, for instance, that the State of Israel was formed as “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism,” to safeguard European interests.

The Palestinian leader also said that the history of the British-Jewish connection to Palestine went as far back as the rule of Oliver Cromwell in 1653. “He thought of moving the Jews from Europe to the Middle East, to this region, because they wanted this region to be a frontier to protect convoys and interests coming from Europe to the East,” he said.

Abbas then traced the history of European colonialism in Palestine from Napoleon Bonaparte, who also said the Jews should have a state in their historic homeland, through American attempts to set up colonies in the 1850, first with local Palestinian Jews, then with American Christians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, center right, speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 14, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

While Washington and Brussels remained silent about Abbas’s remarks, Israeli politicians scrambled to condemn his speech, arguing that his denial of all Jewish ties to the Land of Israel showed he is not interested in genuine peace.

“What we heard… from Mahmoud Abbas was terrible,” President Reuven Rivlin said. “To say Israel is the result of a Western conspiracy to settle Jews in land belonging to Arab populations? To say that that the Jewish people has no connection with the Land of Israel? He forgot many things, and said exactly the things that led him to be accused years ago of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) on Monday called on the EU to condemn Abbas for claiming Israel was a European colonialist project. “The Palestinians cannot continue to finance terrorism and ask for an embrace and support from the Europeans,” she told the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, according to a readout of their meeting provided by her office.

“The European Union must act fairly toward Israel in its activities in the region and understand that the Palestinians are those who perpetuate the conflict,” Hotovely told Giaufret, urging the union to “stop feeding Palestinian delusions” and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Giaufret, after a meeting Monday with Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, tweeted that the EU was “committed to continue supporting transparently and effectively needs of Palestinians, promote trust and oppose incitement.”

Abbas is scheduled to meet with the EU foreign policy czar Federica Mogherini and the union’s 28 foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels for an “informal lunch.” They will “discuss perspectives for the Middle East Peace Process as well as bilateral relations and situation in the region,” the EU spokesperson said, declining to say whether Abbas’s January 14 speech would be on the agenda.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives for their meeting at the European Council in Brussels on December 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Eric Vidal)

The Palestinian leader’s visit to the capital of the EU comes on the heels of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit there last month, during which he had an “informal lunch” with Mogherini and the EU foreign ministers.

Two days after Abbas, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will also meet with Mogherini and the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels. He will be visiting the Belgian city to keynote the European Parliament’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony.

In June 2016, Abbas delivered a controversial speech at the European Parliament, in which he rejected accusations of incitement and in the same breath accused Israelis of killing Palestinians by “poisoning” their drinking water.

President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)

“If you continue to say that the Palestinians are continuing to provoke and incite violence, we do not agree. The Israelis are doing this as well, and somebody has to arbitrate and sort out these mutual accusations,” Abbas said at the time, to raucous applause from the European lawmakers.

“I would also like to say that certain rabbis in Israel have said very clearly, and they have said it very clearly to their government, that our water should be poisoned in order to have Palestinians killed,” Abbas went on.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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