Israel is carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing,’ Abbas shoots back at PM
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Israel is carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing,’ Abbas shoots back at PM

In speech marking start of Muslim holiday, PA president says Netanyahu government unwilling to take a single step toward piece

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with a delegation of the Federation of Jews from Arab countries in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on March 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with a delegation of the Federation of Jews from Arab countries in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on March 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that Israel was the one committing “ethnic cleansing,” and was under international isolation for its refusal to pursue peace with the Palestinians.

In a speech marking the start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha on Sunday evening, Abbas slammed the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, days after Netanyahu released a video in which he accused the PA of advocating ethnic cleansing.

“Israel is isolated internationally because it is not willing to take even one step toward peace. It continues [building] settlements, desecrating holy sites and ethnic cleansing,” said Abbas, according to Channel 10. He also reportedly accused Israel of carrying out premeditated killings of Palestinians.

In his controversial video, released on Facebook and Twitter Friday, Netanyahu decried what he said was a PA wish for the West Bank to be free of Jews in a future Palestinian state, calling such a desire “ethnic cleansing.”

The remarks drew swift condemnation from the United States and members of the Arab Israeli community.

Earlier Sunday, the Palestinian Authority called on the international community to take action over Israel’s settlements, following the release of the video.

Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said the prime minister’s video “shows that Netanyahu has crossed every red line with his egregious and blatantly unethical remarks that flout international law.”

According to the PA’s official news agency Wafa, Erekat said the video should spur the world to take action against Israel, including a resolution by the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements and prosecution of Israel in the International Criminal Court.

The “world must now begin to hold this government responsible, and must not suffice with statements and denouncements, but require real and immediate accountability,” he said.

The Palestinian foreign ministry also called Sunday for the international community to “compel” Israel to abide by international law and halt settlement construction.

The International community considers Israeli building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal. Jerusalem argues the status of West Bank settlements is subject to a final peace deal with the Palestinians.

Israel began building settlements in the West Bank after it captured the territory, previously controlled by Jordan, in the 1967 Six Day War. Today, over 350,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements and outposts and another 200,000 in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its territory.

“The whole world knows who is destroying the two-state solution,” said Erekat, referring to Netanyahu’s government, which he called a government “by the settlers, for the settlers in the settlements.”

Buildings under construction in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron, July 6, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)
Buildings under construction in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron, July 6, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)

Israel has thus far avoided a resolution in the UN Security Council against its settlements due to a US veto. There is speculation, however, that US President Barack Obama may not continue to utilize such a veto to defend Israel as his term in office winds down.

The US State Department on Friday condemned Netanyahu’s remarks as “inappropriate and unhelpful.”

“We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful,” US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.

She said Israel expansion of settlements raises “real questions about Israel’s long-term intentions in the West Bank.”

The prime minister’s video on Friday also brought outrage from Arab Israeli politicians for his comparison of Arab citizens of Israel to Jewish Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

In a column published Sunday in Haaretz newspaper, MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint (Arab) List accused Israel of ethnically cleansing Arabs in 1948.

“Mr. Netanyahu’s recent comparison of Palestinian citizens of Israel with its illegal settlers in Occupied Palestine is not only immoral, but a total departure from rationality, history and Israel’s obligations under international law,” he wrote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with Leader of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog (C) and Leader of the Joint Arab list, Ayman Odeh in the Knesset (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with Leader of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog (C) and Leader of the Joint Arab list, Ayman Odeh in the Knesset (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, accused Netanyahu of creating “an imaginary reality” and rejected the comparison between Israeli Arabs and Jewish West Bank settlers, who he said implement a policy of “ethnic cleansing.”

“Netanyahu doesn’t care that it is the settlements that were established precisely in order to cruelly expel Palestinian populaces from the West Bank to limited territories around the major cities,” he wrote on Facebook.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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