The Arabs made a mistake in 1947 when they rejected the UN partition plan, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with Channel 2 on Friday.

“At the time, 1947, there was [General Assembly] Resolution 181, the partition plan for Palestine and Israel. Israel existed. Palestine diminished. Why?”Abbas said as he described the UN resolution, designated to create a Jewish and an Arab state.

Asked why the Arabs had rejected the plan while Jewish leaders accepted it, Abbas replied: “It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole. But do they punish us for this mistake for 64 years?” Palestinian leaders have always insisted that Resolution 181, which paved the way for Jewish statehood in parts of then-British-ruled Palestine, must be resisted by Arabs who went to war over it.

Decades of regional fighting have hinged on challenges to Israel’s existence and expansion.

By describing historical fault on the Arab side, Abbas appeared to be offering Israel an olive branch, while promoting his own bid to sidestep stalled peace talks by winning UN recognition for a sovereign Palestine.

When the interviewer suggested the reason was Jewish leaders’ acceptance of the plan and its rejection by the Arabs, Abbas said: “I know, I know. It was our mistake. It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole.”

The Prime Minister’s Office did not comment on the interview.

Israeli officials acknowledged the significance of the statement regarding 1947, but also noted the vague language that Abbas used, which fell short of recognizing that Israel – even back then – was intended to be a Jewish state.

Palestinians have said they recognize the State of Israel, but not the Jewish nature of the state.

The question, said one Israeli official, who requested anonymity, is what mistake did Abbas reference? Does Abbas regret that the Palestinians failed to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in 1947, asked the official. Or did Abbas imply that it was a tactical mistake to go to war instead of accepting a two-state solution.

“If Abbas wants to show that he has learned from his mistakes, he should articulate what was the mistake,” the official said.

“I would like to hear Abbas say that the mistake was that Palestinians should have recognized [in 1947] that two states for two peoples is the right solution, and that the Jewish people have a right to a state of their own. But he didn’t say that,” said the official.

Abbas’s comments come as the international community is pushing to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

The Palestinians have insisted that for negotiations to resume, Israel must stop settlement construction in the West Bank and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.

Israel has said the root of the conflict is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and not the settlements.

Palestinians in the past year have turned away from a negotiated solution in favor of seeking statehood without negotiating with Israel. They have asked the UN Security Council to recognize them as a member state of the UN.

On Friday, Abbas told Channel 2 that UN recognition of their independence would help Palestinians pursue negotiations with Israel, which in turn could produce an “extra agreement that we put an end to the conflict.”

His language raised the hackles of his Islamist Hamas rivals, who control the Gaza Strip and with whom Abbas is trying to consolidate an Egyptian-brokered power-sharing accord.

Hamas opposes coexistence with Israel.

“No one is authorized to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people, and no one is authorized to wipe out any of the historical rights of our people,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

“There is no need for Abu Mazen [Abbas] to beg the occupation,” Barhoum said, using a Hamas term for Israel.

Alluding to recent political turmoil that, in US-aligned countries such as Egypt and Jordan, has emboldened popular hostility to Israel, Barhoum said Abbas “should arm himself with the emerging Arab support.”

Asked on Channel 2 how he could bring Hamas to agree to peacemaking, Abbas, himself a refugee from Safed, now in northern Israel, said: “Leave it to us, and we will solve it.”

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