Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech Wednesday to the UN General Assembly as dishonest and accused him of having no intention of making peace with Israel.
“[Abbas’s] speech is deceitful and encourages incitement and disaster in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said in a statement shortly after Abbas declared to the UN General Assembly that the PA was no longer committed to prior agreements with Israel.
Netanyahu rejected Abbas’s claims that the recent actions of Israeli security forces at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount constituted an attempt to change the delicate status quo of the site, revered by both Jews and Muslims.
In his speech, Abbas had warned that Israel was in danger of turning a political conflict into a religious one. He accused Israeli “occupying forces” and “extremists” of attempting to divide the compound and preventing Muslim worshipers from exercising their religious rights. Israeli policies, Abbas warned, could lead to an “implosion” in the region.
“Unlike the Palestinians, Israel strictly adheres to the status quo on the Temple Mount, and is committed to continuing to do so in accordance with the agreements between Israel and Jordan and the Waqf,” Netanyahu said in his response.
The prime minister urged Abbas to “act responsibly” and accept his offer from earlier in September to resume direct negotiations without preconditions. “The fact that he time and again has not responded is the best proof there is that he has no intention of reaching a peace agreement,” he claimed.
Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog also condemned Abbas’s speech, while reserving criticism for Netanyahu as well. Herzog, who heads the Zionist Union party, said Abbas’s references to Israel as an apartheid state were a “distortion” of the truth that would “only benefit the extremists on both sides.” He also accused both Abbas and Netanyahu of engaging in “idle rhetoric.”
“Israelis and Palestinians deserve the hope of a normal life,” he continued. “Abbas and Netanyahu are leaders who are afraid of making decisions, and instead emit slogans and recriminations while leaving us to face a difficult situation and an uncertain future.”
Herzog urged Israelis and Palestinians to “take advantage of a rare opportunity in the Middle East to forge alliances with moderate countries that want to be our partners against rampant Islamist terrorism.”
Avigdor Liberman, the former foreign minister who heads the right-wing opposition party Yisrael Beytenu, dismissed Abbas’s warning that the Palestinians would no longer abide by agreements with Israel.
“This is another empty speech with empty threats,” he said. “In all his years as chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas has incited against Israel and the Jews, and the sooner he vacates his posts, which he holds non-democratically and illegitimately, the better.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett charged that Abbas had presented his own, false version of events during his address.
“Abbas is returning to his days as a Holocaust denier, with a speech that rewrites history,” Bennett said, in an allusion to Abbas’s 1982 PhD thesis, which argued that the Zionists had collaborated with Nazi Germany to encourage Jewish immigration to Palestine.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused Abbas of “standing at the UN podium and spreading lies.”
“While Israel maintains the status quo on the Temple Mount to the point of absurdity with a ban on Jewish prayer, Muslim rioters turn the al-Aqsa Mosque into a warehouse for terrorism,” Shaked said, vowing that Israel would “do everything necessary to preserve its sovereignty in Jerusalem.”
The Temple Mount has seen a surge of clashes in recent weeks, with Palestinians accusing Israel of seeking to enable Jewish prayer there.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said that Abbas’s speech demonstrated the Palestinian leader was the “true successor of the mass-murderer Yasser Arafat,” and charged the he promoted an “anti-Jewish” and “pro-terror” agenda.
Regev said Israel would continue to build settlements in the West Bank as a way for combating “the delegitimization of the Palestinian Authority led by Abbas against Israel.”
Ze’ev Elkin, the immigrant absorption minister, also countered Abbas’s remarks, saying the PA had “long violated the Oslo Accords.” Elkin said Abbas was responsible for continued “incitement” against Israel.
Tzipi Livi, a senior opposition member who used to be Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, said diplomatic efforts such as Abbas’s highly anticipated UN speech would work as leverage to force Israel to endanger itself.
“The speeches, the accusations, and the flags will not bring about a Palestinian state — only direct negotiations with Israel will do so,” she said. “The attempt to make the international community force Israel to make sacrifices that would harm Israel’s interests will not succeed and is doomed to failure.”
Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint (Arab) List opposition party congratulated Abbas on his “brave stand” at the UN, adding in a statement that “Israel is to blame for the assassination of the oslo accords with its repeated violations and attacks against the Palestinian people.”
In his address, Abbas had said that the PA would cease to abide by agreements signed with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo accords, claiming Israel had shown that it, too, was no longer committed to them.
“So long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, cease settlement construction and release prisoners, Israel has left us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to these agreements,” Abbas told the UN General Assembly in New York.
Israel, he said, must now “fully assume all its responsibilities as an occupying power… our patience for a long time has come to an end.”