Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday for rejecting US President Donald Trump’s recently released peace plan.
Gantz said in a statement that Abbas “once again does not miss an opportunity for rejectionism,” echoing a talking point used by senior White House adviser and peace plan architect Jared Kushner, who deemed the Palestinians as having been solely responsible for all failed peace talks in recent decades.
“The time has come to start working for future generations and for peace rather than remaining stuck in the past and preventing the entire region from [achieving] a future of hope,” Gantz added.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu took issue with Abbas’s claim during a speech at an Arab League meeting Saturday that the Palestinians could not accept Israel as Jewish state because it consists of many minorities who are not Jewish. Abbas claimed many immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia were not Jewish.
“There are 1.5 to 2 million Russians in Israel today, some of whom are Christians and some of whom are Jews. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the gates opened. To prove that they were Jewish, they would go to some rabbi, pay him 100 rubles, get a certificate that they were Jewish, and go to Israel.”
He added: “Even the Falash Mura from Ethiopia, believe me, the percentage of Jews among them is tiny.”
Responding to the claim, Netanyahu tweeted that “Apparently [Abbas] hasn’t heard of the tribes of Israel.” The premier went on to call immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union “our brothers and sisters, the flesh of our flesh, thoroughly Jewish, who dreamed in exile for generations of the return to Zion and have fulfilled that dream.”
Gantz added that Abbas’s “ignorance and contempt for our immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, who are an integral part of the Jewish people, is shameful. This is not how peace is built.”
Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) joined in on the condemnations, saying that Israel would overcome Abbas just as the ancient Hebrews had overcome Pharaoh.
Shas chairman Aryeh Deri lashed out in a statement addressing the PA leader directly.
“Abu Mazen,” he said, using Abbas’s nom de guerre. “After you denied the Holocaust, now you’re also denying reality?”
Abbas denied much of the truth of the Holocaust in his 1982 doctoral dissertation titled “The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism.” After becoming the head of the PA he renounced those claims.
“For thousands of years, Jews from Russia and Ethiopia and all corners of the Diaspora dreamed and prayed to come to Israel. We will continue to safeguard the Jewish state and the tradition that brought us here,” Deri said.
Abbas’s comments on Soviet immigrants were strikingly reminiscent of remarks made by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef last month, in which he referred to them as “religion-hating gentiles.”
“Hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of gentiles came to Israel under the Law of Return,” Yosef had said at a rabbinical gathering.
During his Arab League address in Cairo on Saturday, Abbas said he would cut all ties, including security coordination, with both Israel and the US.
“We’ve informed the Israeli side…that there will be no relations at all with them and the United States, including security ties,” Abbas declared.
The PA leader said he’d stated as much in letters sent to both Netanyahu and CIA Director Gina Haspel. The PA currently cooperates with Israeli security services and US intelligence agencies against terrorism.
Abbas has threatened to cut security ties in the past on several occasions though he has not followed through with action on the ground.
The Arab League in a statement rejected the Trump proposal, calling it “unfair” to Palestinians. The pan-Arab bloc said in a statement that the plan “does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people.”
The US plan would potentially grant the Palestinians a state with restricted sovereignty in Gaza and in parts of the West Bank, while allowing Israel to annex all its settlements and keep nearly all of East Jerusalem.
Abbas insisted Palestinians were not rejectionists and were not simply refusing without any counter offer. “We’re not nihilists,” he said.
The Palestinian leader said he was willing to present an alternative proposal before the UN Security Council.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.