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Netanyahu ‘open’ to meeting with Abbas to end terror wave

But no peace talks until violence stops, PM insists; rips into PA leader for accusing Israel of ‘executing’ Palestinians

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Jerusalem, October 15, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Jerusalem, October 15, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he is “perfectly open” to meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to halt the current wave of terror that has been sweeping the country in recent weeks.

Netanyahu said he is willing to resume peace talks “right now,” but at the same time accused Abbas of lying and of inciting terrorism, and argued that it is impossible to conduct peace negotiations while the PA promotes violence against Israel.

It is neither the absence of peace talks nor Israeli settlement activity that leads to terrorism, but rather the Palestinians’ unwillingness to accept the State of Israel, he said.

At a press conference in Jerusalem, the prime minister confirmed reports that US Secretary of State has proposed a summit, possibly in Amman, with Abbas and the Jordanian king, in a bid to put an end to the unrest in Israel and the West Bank.

“It’s potentially useful because it might stop the wave of incitement and the false allegations against Israel. So I’d be open to meetings with Arab leaders, and Palestinian leadership in order to stop this incitement,” he told reporters at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu stressed that he had called for the resumption of talks on numerous occasions, but that the Palestinian leader has consistently refusing to return to the negotiating table. “I’ve called on President Abbas to resume unconditional negotiations immediately. Right now as we speak we can meet. I have no problem with that,” he said. “I’m willing to meet him. He’s not willing to meet me.”

Asked to explain how it makes sense to call for peace negotiations with Abbas, whom Netanyahu called a liar and a supporter of terrorism, the prime minister seemed to contradict his previous statement, indicating that peace talks are not currently possible.

“First of all we need to lower the flames. First of all this wild incitement needs to stop. We can’t advance toward peace while also promoting terror. You can’t have both terror and peace. It’s either this or that,” Netanyahu said. The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat tried to sign peace agreements with Israel while at the same time supporting terrorism, “and we saw where this led to,” Netanyahu said.

The current spate of terrorist attacks has nothing to do with Israeli actions or with the absence or existence of peace talks, but is rooted in the Palestinians’ ideological rejection of a Jewish state, the prime minister asserted.

“This wave of attacks is not the result of a lack of a political horizon. We’ve been suffering terror attacks for the last 95 years,” Netanyahu said, referring to Arab attacks on Jews in Mandatory Palestine.

When terror against Israel reached record levels during the 1990s, in the wake of the Oslo Accords, people said it is because peace is around the corner and there are some fanatics who don’t want peace, the Prime Minister said. Today, the same people are arguing that the stalemate in the peace process leads to terrorism.

“Neither is true. They’re attacking us not because they want peace or don’t want peace. It’s because they don’t want us here,” Netanyahu declared.

“People said it’s because of frustration. (But) it’s not because of the existence of a diplomatic horizon or because of the absence of a diplomatic horizon. It’s because of desire to get rid of the State of Israel. The frustration is about us being here, about the State of Israel being here. And I want to tell you something: This frustration will continue, because we will continue being here.”

A screen capture from Palestinian TV shows PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivering a speech on October 14, 2015, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Palestinian TV/AFP)
A screen capture from Palestinian TV shows PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivering a speech on October 14, 2015, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Palestinian TV/AFP)

The prime minister also dismissed the notion that the current unrest is due to Israeli settlement expansion. “This is not result of massive wave of settlements because there’s not been a massive wave of settlements,” he said, perhaps alluding to statements this week by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who appeared to link the violence with settlement activity.

Netanyahu called on the international community to reject the “lies” about Israel’s actions and “not to draw false symmetry between Israeli citizens and those who would stab and knife them to death.” Abbas has been given “a pass,” for many years now, which has only encouraged him to promote violence, Netanyahu charged.

He also defended the way in which the Israeli security forces have been handling terrorists, rejecting outright accusations of excessive force. The US State Department had expressed concern over “what many would consider excessive use of force” at the hands of Israeli policemen – a “baseless” claim, Netanyahu charged.

Israel, he said, uses exactly the same amount of force that any other country would use in a similar situation, if not less. It was fallacious to argue that the number of casualties says anything about the righteousness of the security forces’ actions, he argued. According to such a logic, the US’s campaign in Afghanistan – where more people were killed than during 9/11 – would be at fault, but “such an argumentation is absurd, he said. “Israel does what is necessary to fight terror.”

During the press conference, Netanyahu blamed Palestinian incitement for the current terror wave and rebutted Abbas’s claim, during a speech Wednesday, accusing Israel of “executing” 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra “in cold blood.”

“The current terror campaign in Israel is a result of continuous Palestinian incitement. First, on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the outrageous claims that we are changing the status quo there or intend to destroy it, and now we have a new big lie,” he said. “That new big lie is that Israel is executing Palestinians.”

However, that boy is neither dead not innocent, Netanyahu recalled. “He tried to kill, murder, knife to death an innocent Israeli youngster, 13 years old, riding a bicycle… This Palestinian terrorist is now being treated in Hadassah Hospital in Israel.”

Ahmad Manasra, one of two cousins who went on a stabbing frenzy in Jerusalem on October 12, 2015 is seen at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem on October 15, 2015. Manasra was hit by a car while fleeing from the scene of the attack. (Courtesy)
Ahmad Manasra, one of two cousins who went on a stabbing frenzy in Jerusalem on October 12, 2015 is seen at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem on October 15, 2015. Manasra was hit by a car while fleeing from the scene of the attack. (Courtesy)

During the press conference, a photo of Manasra lying in his hospital bed was presented.

Manasra, who was run over by an Israeli vehicle after stabbing an Israeli boy, has become the center of heated, high-level name-calling between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The case has become a lightning rod for both sides, as they trade accusations in an increasingly charged atmosphere. Netanyahu has repeatedly alleged that Abbas is inciting Palestinians to violence against Israel, a claim denied by the Palestinian leader. Abbas says Israel has been using excessive force against Palestinians.

A still image from footage of knife-wielding Palestinian teens who stabbed and wounded two Israelis in Jerusalem on Monday, October 12, 2015. (screen capture: Israel Police)
A still image from footage of knife-wielding Palestinian teens who stabbed and wounded two Israelis in Jerusalem on Monday, October 12, 2015. (screen capture: Israel Police)

In the past month, eight Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. During the same period, 31 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including 14 identified by Israel as attackers, and the others in clashes between rioters and Israeli troops.

On Monday, Ahmed and his 15-year-old cousin Hassan stabbed and seriously wounded two Israelis, including a 13-year-old boy, in Jerusalem. Hassan was shot dead by police while Ahmed was struck by a car after the attack.

Amateur video widely circulated on Palestinian social media sites showed the wounded Ahmed lying on the ground after being struck, his legs splayed and a pool of blood near his head. Bystanders are heard cursing the boy in Hebrew and yelling at him, “Die!” The images, which made no mention of the stabbing, have enraged many Palestinians.

Israel’s Hadassah Hospital, which is treating the boy, issued a statement Tuesday saying that “in stark contrast to circulating rumors,” he was stable and “fully conscious.”

In a speech to the Knesset that day, Netanyahu cited the Palestinian images as evidence of Palestinian incitement. “He tried to kill and murder,” Netanyahu said of the boy. “But the complete opposite is presented in a twisted way.”

Then on Wednesday, Israel released security camera footage that appears to show the two Manasra cousins wielding knives and chasing a terrified man through the streets of Pisgat Zeev, a Jewish area of East Jerusalem. The video moves to a shot of the boy who was stabbed standing in a candy store, getting on his bicycle and then crumbling over and falling off his bike after the attack. In a final scene, the older boy is seen being confronted by two armed policemen along a railway track. He lunges at the officers and is shot.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKZCWhnwRdQ

The younger Manasra “was treated by a multidisciplinary team of physicians, especially neurosurgeons” and received the best care available, Professor Yoram Weiss, the director of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, said at Thursday’s press conference. “Nothing was spared to take of his injury. At this point, he’s awake, he’s conscious, he’s eating, he’s watching TV and he’s stable.” But the 13-year-old will stay at Hadassah “for further evaluation” until he can be discharged, Weiss added.

AP contributed to this report.

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