US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Wednesday, hours after Abbas dismissed Kerry’s framework document.
Abbas, addressing a meeting of Arab heads of state in Kuwait, said in reference to Kerry’s document, which was envisioned as a basis for continuing talks beyond the April 29 deadline, that the Palestinians did not need new agreements that would be “buried” by Israel through reservations and pre-conditions.
Kerry’s efforts come just days before Israel is scheduled to release the final batch of 26 Palestinian security prisoners it agreed to set free as part of the package enabling the nine-month negotiation to begin last July.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not given any indication whether he plans to go through with that release, scheduled for Saturday night. Some in his cabinet are calling on him not to do so until Abbas commits to continuing the talks.
Abbas claimed that the Israeli government was now trying to avoid carrying out the release, and the PA government in the West Bank accused Israel of “political blackmail” in linking the issue with extending the negotiations.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry, currently in Europe accompanying US President Barack Obama on a trip there, will meet Abbas to “continue to narrow the gaps between the parties.”
Israeli officials said that at this stage they knew nothing of a possible Kerry meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and Psaki said only that the two men would be in touch “over the phone or video conference.”
According to Israeli officials, there have been ongoing discussions in recent days to salvage the process, and US envoy Martin Indyk has been in the area since the weekend meeting with both sides.
In Abbas’s speech to the Arab leaders, however, he gave no sign that he was on the verge of showing flexibility, reiterating his refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and stating that the Palestinians want an independent state on “all the territories that were occupied in 1967.”
He said that such a state should have full control of the ground, airspace, borders, water and natural resources.
He accused Israel of foiling the US efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East and of seeking to “perpetuate its occupation.” He also called for a just and agreed solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
Abbas told the Arab summit that Israel was trying to “divide” al-Aksa Mosque between Muslims and Jews as is the case with the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. He said that the Palestinians were strongly opposed to any attempt to divide the holy site.
He also accused Israel of stepping up its campaign to “scrap the Arab, Islamic and Christian identity of Jerusalem.”
Abbas’s words fell on fertile ears, with the Arab League expected to draft a resolution at the end of the two-day summit, categorically refusing to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and rejecting pressure on the Palestinian leadership to do so.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby blasted Israel as an “apartheid system” and a final bastion of colonialism.
Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdel-Aziz said Israel was working against peace with its settlement policies, as well as with its demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
One Israeli government official said it was ironic that while the Arab leaders were blasting Israel publicly, “behind the scenes there is almost an unprecedented willingness among leaders in the Arab world to engage with us.”
Unwilling to give examples, the official said that among many in the region Israel is seen not as the enemy, but rather as an ally against the common enemy of Iran and radical Shi’a.
None of this is expressed in the Arab League, he said, partly because it is a “vehicle for consensus politics, which often needs to play to the lowest common denominator.”
The official said that among senior leaders in the Arab world there is a willingness for fair compromises by the Palestinians with Israel.
“If Abbas was interested in getting cover for compromises, he would get that cover,” the official said. By the same token, he said, Abbas is interested in getting Arab League support for his inflexible positions.
Meanwhile, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett slammed the Arab League’s refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and compared Abbas to former Syrian president Hafez Assad.
During a tour of the Golan Heights, the Bayit Yehudi faction head said “the Arab League today returned to the days of Khartoum, when they ruled out peace with us. Today they are denying our right to exist in a Jewish state.”
“As I stand here at the Quneitra observation post on the Golan Heights, I can only wonder what would happen if al-Qaida terrorists were here, threatening our children,” Bennett said.
“Unfortunately, security experts who explained to us why we need to leave the Golan Heights are the same experts that tell us today to relinquish our assets for a piece of paper from the Arab League and Abu Mazen [Abbas],” he said.
“This did not happen in the Golan, and it will not happen in any part of the Land of Israel,” he vowed.
In a reference to talks Israel held with Syria in 1999, in which then-prime minister Ehud Barak discussed the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace, Bennett referred to Abbas as “a more extreme version of the 1999 model of Assad.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.