President Shimon Peres called his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, on
Sunday, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and right-wing politicians
continued to criticize Abbas’s plea for renewed negotiations based on the
Both former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former foreign
minister Tzipi Livni, who each negotiated with Abbas, confirmed that his
comments to Channel 2 on Friday night, were consistent with what he had told
them during their talks.
Abbas appeared to give up on the “right of
return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees and their descendants when a
final-status agreement is reached.
Olmert said Netanyahu, former US
president George W. Bush and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice
all knew this.
Under Netanyahu’s government, Olmert said, negotiations
had been frozen and there had been an effort to prove to the Israeli public that
there was no partner for peace.
“The government has taken steps to
strengthen Hamas and to weaken the PA, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, an organization
which espouses nonviolence and negotiations for peace,” Olmert
“This kind of policy toward the only possible peace partner between
us and the Palestinians is irresponsible and harms the vital interests of the
State of Israel. The interviews that Abbas gave in recent days are proof to the
Israeli public that we have somebody to talk to in order to end this bloody
conflict between our nations, which has lasted far too long,” the former prime
Abbas later told Egyptian television that he upheld
the “right of return,” but that he was free to state his personal opinion, that
he did not believe he would live in the Galilee city of Safed where he was
At the weekly Sunday cabinet meeting, Netanyahu dismissed the
significance of Abbas’s remarks and urged him to immediately hold peace talks
“I watched President Abbas’s interview over the weekend. I
have heard that he has already managed to go back on his remarks,” the prime
“This only proves the importance of direct negotiations
Generally, I can say that if Abu Mazen [Abbas] is
really serious and intends to advance peace, as far as I am concerned, we can
sit together immediately. Jerusalem and Ramallah are only seven minutes apart; I
am ready to start negotiations today,” Netanyahu said.
He also took issue
with Abbas’s statement that the Palestinian Authority planned to ask the UN
General Assembly this month to upgrade its status to that of a non-member
“Peace may be advanced only around the negotiating table and not
via unilateral decisions in the UN General Assembly, which will only push peace
further away and will only lead to instability,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli official added that such a step would be a fundamental breach of the
Oslo Accords, in which the Palestinians committed themselves to resolve all
issues through negotiations.
If the Palestinians made good on their
threat to head to the UN, Israel would be forced to respond, the official
It could lead to a chain of events that would create instability in
the area, the official added.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz warned that
Israel could withhold the transfer of tax funds to the PA.
Minister Avigdor Liberman called Abbas a “liar” and accused him of interfering
in the Israeli election.
“Abbas is interfering, to the benefit of the
Left, [Labor chairwoman] Shelly Yacimovich and [Meretz chairwoman] Zehava
Gal-On, who represent Palestinian interests in Israel,” Liberman told Army
“Let’s compare what he said just two months ago to the UN General
Assembly, or last year to that same body. Or what he says in Arabic and not in
English,” the foreign minister said.
He added that Abbas had spoken of
Israeli actions as “land theft” and “crimes against humanity.” Abbas called
suicide bombers who killed Israelis “heroes,” Liberman said.
not given up on the “right of return” and had no intention to do so, he
A number of Likud ministers and MKs also spoke against Abbas and Olmert.
Education Minister Gideon
Sa’ar accused Olmert of complicating matters for Israel by offering Abbas
far-reaching concessions during his tenure as prime minister, including agreeing
to an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, lines and the partition of
Jerusalem as part of a peace deal, which Abbas now considers a baseline for
Sa’ar said it was “outrageous” that Olmert had “not leveled
even one word of criticism at the Palestinian Authority despite [Abbas’s]
deliberate refusal for four years to negotiate with Israel.”
Danny Danon said Olmert had no right to criticize the government, given that he
was recently convicted of breach of trust and in light of his past leadership
“If Olmert wants to protect the security of Israel, then he
should remain outside the political system so as not to cause any more damage,”
Olmert is considering running in January’s election, but does
not plan to decide until November 15.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak
defended Abbas in an interview with Army Radio, saying the Palestinian president
“is not joining ‘Likud Beytenu’ and not Zionist youth movements, because he is
the Palestinian leader, but you can’t say we have no partner with
In an interview on Channel 2 on Sunday night, Livni blamed
Netanyahu for the lack of trust that has existed between the two sides for the
past four years.
She said that one needed only to look at the sound bites
of blame that had come out of his government in response to Abbas’s
She charged that Liberman was leading a campaign to topple
Abbas, something that would only strengthen it.
This was bad for Israel’s
security, Livni said.
“Anyone who is interested in preserving a secure
Jewish, democratic state, including those on the Right, must embrace what
[Abbas] said in the interview, that he wants to end the conflict on the basis of
the principle of two states,” Livni said.
“We have become a nation where
peace has become a dirty word. Anyone who speaks of an agreement has become a
delusional leftist. I represent the Israelis who want to live here with security
in a Jewish nation,” Livni said.
Peace Now plans to project text from
Abbas’s on the wall of the Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday
Greer Fay Cashman and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.