Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) gestures as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looks on.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the first time in months, Jerusalem responded on Thursday with a degree of optimism to a statement from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who said he would be willing to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.
Abbas, in an interview published on Thursday with the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shibun, said, “I am ready to meet the prime minister of Israel any time in Washington under the patronage of President [Donald] Trump.” A high-level Palestinian delegation is scheduled to travel to Washington next week to prepare for Abbas’s meeting with Trump, scheduled for May 3.
Until now, Abbas has set a number of preconditions to negotiations with Netanyahu, such as a settlement freeze, something he explicitly did not do during his interview with the Japanese newspaper.
“We hope it’s a genuine change,” said Netanyahu’s spokesman, David Keyes.
“It has always been our position to engage in direct negotiations anytime, anywhere, with no preconditions,” he said. “For years, Abbas has avoided negotiations, and we would welcome a change in his position.”
Netanyahu, however, currently has no plans to visit Washington next month.
During the interview, Abbas said that Trump “knows that we are committed to a Middle East that lives in peace, justice and dignity, based on a two state solution, international legitimacy and the Arab peace initiative. And he knows that we are partners in combating terrorism in our region and worldwide.”
While Abbas did not explicitly put down any preconditions for a Trump-sponsored meeting with Netanyahu, he said, “The question, though, before talking about any peace process, is [how] to create the right environment for peace to come. This will be impossible as far as Israel’s colonial settlement enterprise continues, meaning the daily theft of natural resources, imposition of obstacles to our free movement within our own country with and from the rest of the world, as well as with Israel, the occupying power, violating its own obligations under international law and signed agreements.”
Abbas also reiterated his opposition to the US moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump will need to make a decision by June 1 on whether to sign a presidential waiver yet again delaying the move for another six months, as every president has done at six month intervals since 1995, or to fulfill his campaign promise and move the embassy.
“We believe that the US administration is not going to take such an illegal, dangerous and destructive measure like that,” he said. “We have called upon the US administration to engage in making a peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis, and [said] that we are willing to help and cooperate based on two states [along the pre- ]1967 [lines].”
Abbas referred to east Jerusalem as “our eternal capital,” even though the city has never served as the capital of any Arab entity.