Video: Suricata Productions
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowed on Sunday not to return to violence if the US-brokered talks with Israel broke down, but he would not rule out an international campaign to delegitimize Israel in that event.
Abbas spoke to 300 Israeli students, almost all of them left-wing, at the Mukata compound in Ramallah, at an event organized by the One Voice organization and the Knesset’s two-state lobby, headed by MK Hilik Bar. The event was billed as the largest gathering of Israelis in Ramallah since IDF soldiers entered the city in 2002.
The students were supposed to represent the entire spectrum of Israeli politics and Judaism, but no right-wing or kippa-wearing students asked questions. Extremists on the Palestinian side were present, protesting against the meeting outside and hoisting a sign with a Magen David, an equals sign and a swastika.
Abbas followed several statements intended to reach out to Israelis with other quotes that disappointed his guests.
The Palestinian leader denied that he intended to bring millions of refugees from around the world into Israel’s final borders.
“The Israeli propaganda that I intend to flood Israel with five million refugees is nonsense,” he said. “We don’t want to change the demographics in Israel.”
But Abbas also said he would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a demand by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that has the endorsement of opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
Abbas said he was not a Holocaust denier and that he was not anti-Semitic. But he also ruled out any Jews remaining in a Palestinian state.
“That question cannot be on the table,” Abbas said.
“Settlers cannot be equated with people who have been living in this land for thousands of years.”
On the issue of Jerusalem, Abbas received applause for saying that it can be two open cities coexisting with one municipal umbrella.
But answering a question from Haifa Labor activist Ori Vortman, Abbas said the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, could not be shared, though he would let Jews pray at the Western Wall.
Abbas admitted that there was incitement against Israel in Palestinian television programs and textbooks. But he blamed Israel for preventing an American committee from being set up that would monitor incitement on both sides.
When asked about Gaza, Abbas said 80 percent of Gazans supported the diplomatic process with Israel. But Hamas, which controls Gaza, issued a statement condemning the meeting and Abbas for hosting it.
Former Labor MK Nadia Hilu asked Abbas about Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s plan for exchanges of territories and populations, which has been adopted by many Israelis on the Left. Abbas responded that the plan was extremist, and he refused to elaborate.
The Palestinian leader complained that Israelis wanted too much water in a peace deal. Four days after Netanyahu accused European Union parliament president Martin Schultz of exaggerating Israeli water consumption, Abbas said Israelis were demanding 12 times as much water as the Palestinians.
Abbas said talks with former prime minister Ehud Olmert broke down because Olmert’s government fell apart, a narrative very different from what Olmert and American officials have presented.
Olmert has said he offered Abbas a plan for Israel to give up 100 percent of the West Bank, divide Jerusalem, internationalize the capital’s Old City, remove the IDF from the Jordan Valley and take in 5,000 Palestinian refugees in September 2008, nearly seven months before Netanyahu replaced Olmert. But Abbas reportedly did not respond to the offer, and talks with Israel did not resume again until July 2013.
Bar said he was pleased with the event. He called on Netanyahu to organize a similar meeting, this time hosting 300 Palestinian students.