White House: Abbas’s rhetoric ‘has prevented peace for years’
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White House: Abbas’s rhetoric ‘has prevented peace for years’

After PA chief says US peace role is over, Washington insists Trump 'remains as committed to peace as ever'; Netanyahu says Israel unimpressed by Palestinian threats

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference following a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) about US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Yasin Akgul)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference following a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) about US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Yasin Akgul)

The White House on Wednesday panned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments against the US and its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying such rhetoric “has prevented peace for years.”

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “unimpressed” by Palestinians’ angry rhetoric over US recognition of the Israeli capital.

Abbas said earlier in the day that the Palestinians would not accept any future role for the US in the peace process, and threatened to pull out of existing agreements with the Jewish state.

In response, a senior White House official said President Donald Trump “remains as committed to peace as ever.

“This rhetoric, which has prevented peace for years, is not surprising as we anticipated reactions like this,” the unnamed official said. “We will remain hard at work putting together our plan, which will benefit the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”

US President Donald Trump speaks during a Hanukkah reception at the White House on December 7, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

The US official also stressed the sides should “ignore the distortions and instead focus on what the president actually said last week: the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties, the United States continues to take no position on any final status issues, and the United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.”

In an address last week from the White House, Trump insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, but has continued to elicit rage in the Arab world.

Supporters of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group burn American flags during a protest in Gaza City against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, on December 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

On Wednesday, an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation declared that Trump’s move had made it so the US could no longer be seen as a mediator in peace talks, declaring that East Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Palestine, with Abbas leading the charge.

The Palestinian leader slammed Trump’s declaration as a “crime” and a “gift” to the “Zionist movement” — as if he “were giving away an American city” — and asserted that Washington no longer had any role to play in the peace process.

Abbas said the Palestinians had been engaged with Washington in a new push to reach a peace agreement with Israel, the “deal of our times.” But “instead we got the slap of our times,” Abbas said. “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator … We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.” He suggested the UN should take over as mediator.

“We will tell the Israelis that we are no longer committed to any agreement from Oslo until today,” Abbas threatened, and declared that the Palestinian Authority intended to return to the United Nations to gain full membership.

“We agreed with America we would not join international institutions on the condition that American does not transfer its embassy, does not initiate any action against our office in Washington, and orders Israel to freeze settlement building,” Abbas said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on December 13, 2017 (GPO)

Netanyahu responded to Abbas by saying the Palestinians should “face the reality” that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

“Palestinians had better face up to reality and strive for peace rather than escalation,” the premier said at an event at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians should also recognize that it is Israel that safeguards “Jerusalem’s freedom of religion for all faiths,” Netanyahu noted. “We are the ones in the Middle East who commit to this guarantee as no one else does, and as some often fail disgracefully to do.”

Netanyahu said Israel was therefore “unimpressed” by Palestinians’ angry rhetoric over US recognition of the Israeli capital.

“The truth will eventually prevail, and many nations will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move their embassies” to Jerusalem, he said, echoing similar comments he has made since Trump’s announcement.

Thus far, most countries have slammed Trump’s decision, and only the Czech Republic said it would consider moving its embassy.

Dov Lieber and agencies contributed to this report.

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