The White House hit back against PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday over a speech he delivered in Istanbul dismissing any role for Washington in the Middle East peace process, following US President Donald Trump’s Trump's recognition last week of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Slamming Abbas’s rhetoric as a distortion of the facts and detrimental to the pursuit of peace, a senior White House official said that the Trump administration would continue heads down in its effort to restart direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But Abbas said earlier on Wednesday that the US had relinquished its historic position as a fair negotiator, and “from now on” could no longer mediate serious peace talks. He characterized the US policy shift move as a “crime” and a gift to the “Zionist movement,” and claimed that the Trump administration had gone back on an agreement not to move its embassy to Jerusalem in exchange for a Palestinian commitment not to join additional international bodies as a state.
Trump had promised the deal of the century, Abbas said. Instead the Palestinians got the “slap of the century.”
Palestinian leader Abbas says Trump's 'crime' over Jerusalem precludes US peace role (Reuters)
“We do not want America,” he declared, to an audience that included Jordanian King Abdullah, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and more than 50 additional Muslim world leaders. “After these decisions, we will not accept them.... As long as they act like this, we do not want them.”
A senior White House official responded forcefully to the speech.
“The president remains as committed to peace as ever,” the official said. “This rhetoric, which has prevented peace for years, is not surprising, as we anticipated reactions like this. We will remain hard at work, putting together our plan, which will benefit the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
“It is also important to 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,” the official continued. “We will continue to work on our plan for peace that we hope will offer the best outcome for both peoples, and look forward to unveiling it when it is ready and the time is right.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the rhetoric voiced in Turkey against the US decision on Jerusalem, saying simply, “All these statement do not impress us.”
Netanyahu said it would be better for the Palestinians to “recognize reality and work toward peace and not extremism.”
Speaking at an event honoring the Mossad at the President’s Residence, Netanyahu said the Palestinians should recognize another fact as well: “Not only is Jerusalem Israel’s capital, we protect the freedom of worship for all the religions.
“The truth will win out, and many countries will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move their embassies there,” the prime minister said.
Trump announced on December 6 that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without delineating which parts of the city would remain Israel’s capital upon a final settlement with the Palestinians. Israel insists that the city will remain its undivided and eternal capital, while the Palestinians demand a sovereign capital of their own in its eastern districts.
Since the early 1990s, the US has served as the primary interlocutor in the peace process, frequently meeting with leaders from both sides and hosting negotiations between them. But in light of Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, Abbas called for the United Nations to take responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for a new mechanism to implement international law pertaining to it.
Over the past week, a number of Abbas advisers have said that a multilateral framework for the peace process should be established, which includes international powers such as Russia, China and France.
Several Arab leaders have echoed Abbas’s call and have pushed for the internationalization of the conflict. Wednesday’s Istanbul gathering of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation produced a communiqué condemning the US move and declaring Jerusalem as the capital of “Palestine,” but without adopting any detailed program for how to counter the American declaration.
The 57-member OIC issued a statement after the summit, saying that it “declares east Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine and invites all countries to recognize the State of Palestine and east Jerusalem as its occupied capital.”
And according to the OIC website, the final communiqué text holds the Trump administration “fully responsible for any repercussions of it refusing to disavow this unlawful decision, taking it as a clear desertion by the US administration of its role as peace broker.”
At the conference, Erdogan, who has been heated the past week in his criticism of Israel and the UN move, opened the summit by saying that “it is a must for countries that have not yet recognized the Palestinian state to take this important step, to maintain a balance that will ensure good sense and justice in the region.”
He said the participants in the summit were gathered “to evaluate the abuse” of Jerusalem.
“Any person who wanders the streets of this holy city will understand that it is under occupation. Global and regional peace cannot be achieved until the Palestine matter is justly resolved,” he declared.
Erdogan repeated his characterization of Israel as an “occupying and terrorist state,” and said that the US decision is “null and void.”
Jerusalem is a “redline” for Muslims, Erdogan said, characterizing the US move as “a threat to all humanity.”
“Israel has been rewarded by Trump for its acts of terrorism,” he continued. “Israel tortured unarmed civilians. The US should turn back from this unlawful and provocative decision.”
The summit called on the OIC member states to impose political and economic restrictions on states, officials, parliaments, companies and individuals recognizing Israeli annexation of Jerusalem.
Abbas also said the Palestinians would turn to the Security Council to request full membership in the UN, even if the US threatens to block them.
“We will go... with your support and help next week. If they refuse to give it to us, we will go again the following week. And if they refuse to give it to us then, we will go the week after that,” Abbas said of making a bid for full membership in the UN.
Israel’s envoy to the UN responded by saying the PA is “doing all it can to avoid any chance for negotiations and is actively thwarting initiatives toward reconciliation.
“The international community must not allow chairman Abbas to evade direct negotiations yet again,” Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement.
Abbas again threatened to abandon the Oslo Accords, which created the PA in the early 1990s.
“Israel’s continuing violations and colonial practices, especially in Jerusalem, are making us exempt of the signed agreements with it,” he said. “We cannot remain an authority without authority and under an occupation with no price.”
During his speech in Istanbul, however, Abbas said the Palestinians are serious this time about leaving the Oslo Accords.
“Some people told us that you are saying you will do something without doing it,” he said. “But we are going to say and do. At the necessary time, we are going to tell the Israelis we are not committed to any agreement between us and you.”Herb Keinon contributed to this report.