"The government of Israel must ask itself: Why, when a 13-year-old kid throws stones from a distance of dozens of meters, is he shot by a sniper from a distance of 200 meters? These kids saw what happened to the Dawabshe family in Duma, they saw what happened with Muhammad Abu Khdeir. They are tired of the injustice. Give us all of our rights so that this whole situation will calm down," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said during a meeting that he held this week with Arab Israeli reporters at the Presidential Headquarters in Ramallah.
The meeting with Abbas took place on the backdrop of the wave of terror that has plagued Israel in recent months, and the blame that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has assigned to the Palestinian Authority, claiming that they are encouraging terror through incitement. Last week, cracks showed in the cooperation between the Palestinian security forces and the IDF after a 34-year-old Palestinian police officer from Nablus, who served as a security officer in the PA and a bodyguard to the Palestinian attorney-general in Ramallah, opened fire at IDF soldiers at a checkpoint near Beit El, seriously wounding two of them.
However, Abbas stressed that, despite the accusations against him, the PA is doing all in its power to prevent the situation on the ground from escalating. "The popular uprising began peacefully in the West Bank, with protests, after the Palestinian public had reached the end of its tether," Abbas said. "The reason for this is that the Israeli government allowed people to harm al-Aksa Mosque. We do not oppose allowing respectful visits to the holy place. However, when they attack the mosque and later the churches, and even ask Christians to leave their homeland - that's when we say, 'Enough.'"
What is your response to claims that the PA is responsible for incitement that causes the Palestinians to carry out terror attacks?
"Israel talks about incitement, but we would welcome a joint American-Israeli-Palestinian committee to check these claims. We told them this 17 years ago and said that we would accept whatever the Americans define as incitement. A committee of this kind was formed in the past, and it lasted only six months. The incitement in Israel is institutionalized and includes the media, official institutions and ministers. It is also in the messages learned by children in schools. We all must eliminate incitement - both us and in Israel. In Israel, 95 percent of the books include incitement, and with the Palestinians, it's only four or five percent."
The fact that many of those carrying out attacks in the current wave of terror are teens, and even children, has not gone unnoticed by Abbas, but he claims that the PA is trying to send messages against violence to the Palestinian people and the youth. "I always say that we are against the use of weapons," he said. "We want a solution through peaceful means. We turn to the Israeli government as the representative of the Israeli people, but I am cautious about discussing my position in every forum, including to the Israeli and foreign press and to foreign delegations. We are against violence and terror. The blood of Jews, Muslims and Christians is all the same color. We make sure to send our messages to Palestinian teens and children as well."
Amid diplomatic stagnation and international efforts to renew negotiations with the Palestinians, a French initiative came to light recently that envisions France holding an international conference attended by the two sides and their main partners - including the US, Europe and the Arab states - in an effort to implement a two-state solution. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius even declared that if negotiations fail, France would be forced to recognize a Palestinian state. Israel was quick to attack the French ultimatum, claiming that "this is not how peace is achieved." However, the Palestinian Authority praised the initiative. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, "We call on the international community to hold an international conference on the Palestinian issue, based on international law and UN decisions, and in order to end the Israeli occupation."
Abbas as well, in a speech he gave in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa said, "We cannot accept the status quo, including the occupation and the settlements." However, he added that, "We will not go back to negotiations for the sake of negotiations, we will not continue to implement signed agreements and we will not accept temporary solutions." He stated in his comments to Arab Israeli reporters this week that the Palestinians "expect a conference with a mechanism that will be able to deal with the Palestinian issue and bring about the end of the occupation that has continued for 48 years."
The PA is also continuing its efforts to work against Israel in the international arena. After the UN General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state in 2012, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, has recently raised the possibility that the PA's next step will be a Security Council resolution condemning the building in settlements.
"I turn to the Israelis and ask: Why these settlements," Abbas asked. "The continuation of settlements will turn the state of Israel, not only into an occupier state, but into an Apartheid state against the Palestinian people. We are tired of all of the settlement building that is continuing in many places. They attack people, trees and structures. Israel violated the Oslo Accords, and the IDF enters Territory A whenever it wants. Israel does not want negotiations. Our answer to them is that our hand is outstretched for peace, in order to discuss all final status issues, but you must stop the settlements. They tell us we are giving pre-conditions. The whole world, including the United States, says that the settlements are illegitimate. Even Israeli parties and people say so. So, how do they call this a pre-condition. We are standing up for our right to go to the UN Security Council to get a resolution on the settlement issue. We will continue to fight for an independent Palestinian state through diplomacy, including defending Palestinians and disarming the settlers. We have already made a decision that if Israel does not act to implement the agreements, we will continue to seek recognition of our state around the world. As far as we are concerned, we have a state that 137 states have recognized."Do you still see the Netanyahu government as partner for negotiations
"Only if Benjamin Netanyahu stands up and tells the Israeli people, 'We have a partner,' and accepts our international legitimacy. We are not asking for the impossible. We only want our international legitimacy and that Israel honor the agreements it has signed. Israel wants to turn us into slaves and servants for the purposes of security cooperation only. Israel must stop the settlements and free the 104 pre-Oslo prisoners, which Netanyahu and Kerry agreed to, then we will come to the negotiating table. Why did Israel stop the deal to free the prisoners in the middle? We still don't have an answer for this unacceptable move. As far as they're concerned these are pre-conditions, and as far as we and the world are concerned this is the minimum that must be done. We want an independent Palestinian state on the June 4, 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital. There is no peace and no Palestinian state without Jerusalem, along with a fair and just solution to the refugee issue in line with international resolutions. We will not accept a failure to solve the problem of six million refugees. This is our position, and we will not be moved from it. Still, we want peace and want to fulfill our rights through negotiations and peaceful means."What about your opposition to recognize Israel as the Jewish state?
We already recognized Israel at the PLO conference in Algeria, but we will not recognize a Jewish state. They cannot force us to. Let them go to the UN and change their name to whatever they want, even 'The Jewish Zionist Empire.' Why didn't they make similar demands of Egypt and Jordan? Why us? We will not recognize a Jewish state. Why? Because. We have recognized Israel for 20 years, and we know why we say it. We know the secrets behind the demand that we recognize a Jewish state."
Abbas also addressed the issue of land swaps, which came up during Israel's last election campaign in which some called for settlement blocs to be annexed to Israel and the area of Israeli Arab towns known as the Triangle would become part of the future Palestinian state. "We will not take any of you in the Palestinian state," he told Israeli Arab journalists. "But you will be accepted guests."
Abbas also addressed opposition leader Isaac Herzog's initiative to separate from the Palestinians, which calls to complete the building of the separation barrier in the West Bank so that the major settlement blocs are included on the Israeli side and to separate the Palestinian villages in east Jerusalem from the rest of the city. "We did not hear an initiative directly from Herzog that we can respond to," he said. "We want to separate from the Israelis. We do not want one state."
Abbas's meeting last week with terrorists' families on the day in which Border Police woman Hadar Cohen was killed in a terror attack at Damascus Gate was widely criticized in Israel. "These are the families of martyrs," Abbas says. "What does Israel want That I tell them 'Go to hell?' That won't happen. We stand behind the families and support them. We've explained to the Israelis in the past that even when we catch a spy, and even if we execute him, we continue to pay a salary to his family. What crime did the families of martyrs commit?"
Together with Abbas sat Muhammmad Barakeh, leader of the Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership. In answer to a question about the day of solidarity with Israeli Arabs, which was marked for the first time on January 30 at the imitative of the Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership, Abbas said: "We don't interfere. What you think is right to do, we will support, just as the Israeli Arabs support the establishment of a Palestinian state."
Speaking of Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah which has again been in the headlines amid talks between the sides in Qatar, Abbas said: "As long as Hamas fails to accept our conditions for reconciliation, it will not come to fruition. The two conditions are the establishment of a unity government and the holding of elections.