Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu crossed swords with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, saying an op-ed Abbas penned in Tuesday’s New York Times was a “gross distortion” of history.

Netanyahu leaves for Washington on Thursday, and is expected to argue against recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN in September.

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Abbas argued in print for that recognition, saying such an acknowledgement would mend a historic wrong.

“It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states,” Abbas wrote in the Times.

“In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative.

“Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened.

War and further expulsions ensued,” he wrote.

Aghast at what sources in the Prime Minister’s Office termed Abbas’s Stalinist-style rewriting of history, Netanyahu issued a statement calling it a “a gross distortion of well-known and -documented historical facts.”

“It was the Palestinians who rejected the partition plan for two states while the Jewish leadership accepted it,” Netanyahu said.

Arab armies, with the assistance of Palestinian forces, “attacked the Jewish state in order to destroy it.  None of this is mentioned in the article,” the statement said.

Netanyahu also took strong issue with another part of the op-ed, where Abbas writes that Palestine’s admission to the UN “would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”

In response, Netanyahu said, “One could conclude from the article that the Palestinian leadership views the establishment of a Palestinian state as a means to continue the conflict with Israel instead of ending it.”

Government sources said that calling for a Palestinian state to be a platform for continuing the struggle against Israel was “diametrically opposed to how we in Israel and in the international community see it.

“We see the issue of Palestinian statehood as ending the conflict, Abbas is saying they want a state to continue the struggle against Israel.”

The sources said it was extremely problematic for the Palestinian leader to divorce the issues of peace and statehood, and to say that the purpose of a state is not peace, but rather to get a better platform to continue the struggle against Israel.

Based on the PA president’s column, the sources said, “One can only conclude that Abbas has abandoned even the pretense of embracing the path of peace and instead chosen a strategy to establish a Palestinian state and use this improved position to wage a diplomatic and legal war against Israel.”

According to the sources, “Abbas’s strategy for the past two years has been to avoid a negotiated settlement with Israel.

“That’s why he avoided Netanyahu’s continued call for negotiations. That’s why he placed a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations, something he never did before in the 18 years of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. That’s why he walked away from peace talks last September.”

And, the sources added, “That’s why he had no qualms about forging a pact with Hamas, which refuses to recognize the existence of Israel and refuses to abandon terrorism.”

Meanwhile, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said there was an open line of communication between the office and the White House, and that each was briefing the other on the content of the speeches that Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama will deliver on the Middle East in the coming days.

Obama is scheduled to deliver an address focused on the region at the State Department on Thursday, just a few hours before Netanyahu is scheduled to take off for Washington.

The two men are scheduled to meet on Friday morning.

Obama will then address the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on Sunday morning, with Netanyahu addressing that same body on Monday, and delivering a speech to Congress on Tuesday, which aides said would be his key address during his trip.

Government sources said the prime minister’s speech to Congress would likely focus on three interweaving topics: the revolutions in the Arab world, Iran, and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, who is expected to “put more meat” on the principles that he enumerated in a speech to the Knesset on Monday, is also expected to tell Congress that if the Palestinians move back to negotiations and the “direction of peace,” then “the door is open and we are willing to go very far.”

But, the aides said, this willingness to move forward will be conditional on not including an unreformed Hamas inside a PA government.

“Everything will be conditional,” one official said. “The pact with Hamas is a litmus test, and there is no way of moving forward as long as there is in an alliance with Hamas.”

Washington sources, meanwhile, are anticipating that Obama will strike a nonconfrontational tone with Israel in his Middle East speech on Thursday, as well as in his meeting with Netanyahu.

There was little expectation that Obama would venture into great detail of the Israeli- Palestinian peace process, much less address the controversial final-status issues.

Instead, one Washington hand suggested that the furthest the White House was likely to go was into a reframing of the formula US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has long used as the basis for resolving the conflict.

“We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements,” Clinton said in 2009 after Netanyahu announced a partial settlement freeze.

This estimation stood in contrast with a frontpage story in Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday that said Obama would classify the settlements as “illegal,” and would call on Israel to return to the 1967 lines with negotiated border adjustments.

The report said this was the message that emerged from talks that new National Security Council head Ya’acov Amidror and his predecessor Uzi Arad held in Washington in recent days with White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

The report said Amidror and Arad asked that changes be made in a draft of Obama’s speech.

But Amidror unequivocally denied this in an Army Radio interview, saying Obama’s speech “did not come up in meetings between me and the national security adviser of the US, and not with his aides. Not in one manner, or another,” he said.

One Washington insider said there was “a lot of skepticism in the administration about Netanyahu, about being able to make any progress with him, so why exert any political capital?” He said that skepticism combined with the Palestinian unity deal and the attacks along Israel’s borders on Sunday made the administration unlikely to see room to push the process forward.

Still, he added that the White House saw no advantage in provoking Netanyahu.

“There will be efforts on both sides to make this a feel- good visit,” he said.

There is wide speculation that during his AIPAC speech Obama will announce a trip to Israel to coincide with the June conference President Shimon Peres is organizing.

Speaking after talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah at the start of a week of intense diplomacy, Obama pledged to keep pressing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite his failure so far to break the impasse.

With the Jordanian monarch sitting at his side in the Oval Office, Obama suggested that unrest sweeping the Middle East offered a chance for Israel and the Palestinians to seek progress toward resolving their own long-running dispute.

“Despite the many changes – or perhaps because of the many changes that have taken place in the region – it’s more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states living side by side in peace and security,” Obama told reporters.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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