Islamic State will assume the moral leadership of the Arab world if Israel does not stop crushing Palestinians’ hopes of statehood, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said.
An Israeli minister countered that when Israel has sought peace, it has been rewarded with violence.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO, told a Rome conference on Mediterranean security Friday that the radical jihadism of Islamic State could only be defeated long-term through a resolution of the Palestinian question and the establishment of democracy in Arab countries.
“Ever since the beginning of Islam there have been people and organizations seeking to use the religion for their own ends. Daesh is number 803,” he said, referring to the jihadist group by an Arabic term.
“You are not going to defeat Daesh with bullets, warplanes and so on.”
Erekat said the anger that fueled support for groups like Islamic State was undermining people like him who had attempted to negotiate peace with Israel and had been treated instead to the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
“For 23 years I promised Palestinians we would have our freedom and dignity. What did I bring my people? Instead of 200,000 settlers we now have 600,000 and an Israeli prime minister who prides himself on saying ‘there will be no Palestinian state on my watch.'”
“If we go down as Palestinian moderates, if we cannot deliver, mark my words, this will be the scenario,” he said.”At the moment ISIS is seen as a causeless bunch of criminal terrorists. Nobody is associating with them. If tomorrow they fill the gap of me and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas and they start killing Israelis, who amongst one billion Arabs will be against it?”
Israel’s Interior Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel could not contemplate compromising its security by accepting a Palestinian state that would be a threat to it.
“When we try to live in peace with our neighbors we get rockets and missiles,” Shalom told the same conference immediately after it had been addressed by Erekat.
Israel has accused Erekat and the Palestinian leadership of inciting an upsurge in Palestinian terrorism in recent weeks.
Last Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting that Erekat, instead of condemning such attacks, praises the perpetrators which “gives backing and encouragement to acts of terror.”