Top PLO official dubs Netanyahu ‘number one extremist’

Yasser Abed Rabbo says Palestinian leadership refuses to recognize ‘historic Palestine’ as ‘the homeland of the Jewish people’

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo in Ramallah, January 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo in Ramallah, January 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

A senior Palestinian official dubbed Benjamin Netanyahu “a racist” and “the number one extremist in Israel,” in light of the prime minister’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of Jewish people.

Speaking to Palestinian radio on Monday, Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary of the PLO and one of only two Palestinian officials authorized to comment on negotiations with Israel, predicted that the recently revived talks would collapse due to Netanyahu’s entrenched positions.

“Netanyahu is the number one extremist in Israel. He hides behind [Economics Minister Naftali] Bennett and [former foreign minister Avigdor] Liberman. He is the symbol of extremism and resorts to a policy that seeks no solution,” Abed Rabbo said, adding that the Palestinian leadership refuses to recognize “historic Palestine” as the “homeland of the Jewish people.”

Abed Rabbo’s comments came in response to Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan University Sunday, in which he claimed that the core issue blocking a peaceful resolution to the conflict was the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

“Recognize the Jewish state,” he appealed to the Palestinian leadership. “As long as you refuse to do so, there will never be peace. Recognize our right to live here in our own sovereign state, our nation state – only then will peace be possible.”

Monday’s comments weren’t the first time Abed Rabbo, a signatory to the Israeli-Palestinian Geneva initiative for peace, attacked the Israeli negotiators. In early September he dubbed talks with Israel “futile” and called for massive American pressure on officials in Jerusalem.

His comments were delivered the same day he met with a delegation of 11 Israeli MKs from the parliamentary caucus for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the course of that meeting, during which Abed Rabbo sat alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the PA leadership ignored several requests from the visiting Labor MKs to respond to Netanyahu’s demand that Abbas recognize “Jewish Israel.” Abbas told them to “leave the specific issues to the negotiations.” A leaflet distributed to the MKs, “The Palestinian Position on Some Political Issues,” did include a section on the Israeli demand for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state. “Prime Minister Netanyahu introduced this demand only two years ago, in order to obstruct the peace process,” it stated.

The Israelis, Abed Rabbo claimed in remarks Monday, “always invent excuses — sometimes religious, sometimes historic and sometimes security-related — to avoid the main issue, which is the occupation of Palestinian land and how to end it.” He said that Netanyahu strives to “cancel the historic presence of Palestinians on this land.”

Alluding to statements by chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni whereby negotiations may continue beyond the nine-month time-frame set out by the Americans at the start of talks, Abed Rabbo said it was Israel’s habit to prolong negotiations as long as possible in order to avoid international pressure.

Israel “begins talking not about negotiating issues but about the length of negotiations,” Abed Rabbo said.

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