PA President Mahmoud Abbas (C) at a meeting for the Central Council of the PLO, in Ramallah, March 4, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated on Wednesday his refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state but said the Palestinians are prepared to return to the negotiating table.
“We won’t accept a Jewish state and the Islamization of the struggle in the Middle East,” Abbas said in a speech before the PLO Central Council in Ramallah. “We are moderate Muslims. We are also against the Jewish state because of the many things it would mean in the future. We are against a temporary [Palestinian] state.”
The 124-member council convened to discuss the future of relations between the Palestinians and Israel in light of the stalemate in the peace process and the Israeli government’s recent decision to withhold tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the PA.
Abbas called on the council to reconsider the functions of the PA, saying there is a need for a “sovereign authority.”
He stopped, however, short of calling for an end to security, economic and political ties with Israel
, as demanded by some PLO officials.
The PA leader said Israel is withholding NIS 1.8 billion belonging to the Palestinians.
“Are we dealing with a state or a bully?” he asked. “How can that happen?” He urged the world to solve the Palestinian issue on the basis of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
“If Israel withdraws from all the Arab territories it occupied in 1967, all the Arab and Islamic countries would recognize Israel. If Israel wanted peace, it could have done that. If Israel recognizes our rights, it would live in peace,” he proclaimed.
“The world must push Israel to wake up,” he continued.
“Israel is the one that is hijacking peace and pushing toward tension in the world by continuing its occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese lands.”
Abbas said he is prepared to resume peace talks if Israel releases Palestinian prisoners and halts construction in the settlements. He accused it of violating all the agreements it signed with the Palestinians.
“We won’t capitulate,” he stressed. Nonetheless, he said the Palestinians “won’t resort to violence.”
“A peaceful, popular resistance is the only way for us to express ourselves,” he stated.
“We are present on our land to stay. We will stay on our land no matter what happens.
We are prepared to return to the negotiations, although [the Israelis] have violated all the agreements since 1995, seized our funds, entered our cities and killed our people.”
Abbas accused Israel of taking “destructive and racist” measures against the Arab residents of Jerusalem. He claimed that Israel is seeking to evict thousands from the city.
Referring to the Israeli election, he said Israel wants to freeze everything now because of the vote.
“Honestly, we have no business with the elections and we don’t intervene. We will consider anyone who comes to power in Israel as a partner, and we will negotiate with him regardless of his identity and policies,” he said.
The PA president praised the formation of the Joint (Arab) List running for Knesset.
“We in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been unable to unite,” he said, referring to the power struggle between his Fatah faction and Hamas. He expressed hope that the new Arab list would be able to defend the rights of Israeli-Arab citizens and raise the banner of peace.
He criticized Hamas for hindering efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. He added that he is prepared to hold PA elections if Hamas agrees.
In response, Hamas accused Abbas of “political jesting.”
Spokesman Mushir al-Masri said Hamas is prepared to hold presidential and parliamentary elections.
“The ball is now in Abbas’s court,” he said. “We challenge him to issue a presidential decree calling for new elections, but he’s afraid of what awaits him. He’s also avoiding implementing the reconciliation agreement he signed with Hamas” last year.
Another Hamas official, Ismail Radwan, rejected Abbas’s claims about his willingness to resume peace talks with Israel. He accused the PA leader of preferring negotiations with Israel to reconciliation with Hamas.
Radwan also criticized him for ignoring last week’s Egyptian court verdict that designated Hamas a terrorist group.