In a harsh exchange, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with a blood libel on Thursday, in advance of his trip to Rome on Sunday to look for new ways to kick-start the diplomatic process.
Despite Netanyahu’s upcoming push, prospects for peace looked dim after Abbas refused to meet with President Reuven Rivlin as they both visited Brussels this week.
“Someone who refuses to meet the president and prime minister for direct negotiations, and who spreads a blood libel in the European parliament, is lying when he says his hand is outstretched in peace,” a statement issued immediately by the Prime Minister’s Office PMO said.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas at EU parliament: Israeli rabbis urged to poison Palestinian water
In his speech to the parliament on Thursday, Abbas accused certain rabbis of calling to poison Palestinian water wells. He also said that ending the “Israeli occupation” would stop global terrorism, which is fueled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In response, the PMO said that Abbas had exposed his “true face. Israel is waiting for the day when Abu Mazen [Abbas] will stop spreading lies and incitement. Until then, Israel will continue to defend itself against Palestinian incitement that causes terrorism.”
The PMO’s statement ended two-days of European pageantry in Brussels, which almost looked like it had been set up as a staging ground for an historic breakthrough in the peace process, frozen since April 20014 Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Sunday evening with US Secretary of State John Kerry and again the next day before flying back to Israel. He is also scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and possibly with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
On Tuesday, the day after he returns, Netanyahu will meet in Jerusalem with visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Netanyahu’s meeting with Kerry will come before the much anticipated release of a report by the Quartet – made up of the US, EU, UN and Russia – that is expected to spell out the reasons for the current diplomatic logjam and give recommendations on how to move forward.
Netanyahu wants to keep those recommendations from becoming the cornerstone of a new UN Security Council Resolution to replace UNSC 242, which has underpinned all diplomatic efforts since 1967. He also wants to push a regional umbrella for possible Israeli-Palestinian talks, instead of the international conference the French are pushing as part of their diplomatic initiative.
Both Abbas and Rivlin were in Brussels for meetings with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Council President Donald Tusk.
They came in response to invitations from European Parliament head Martin Schulz. He scheduled Rivlin to address the parliament on Wednesday and Abbas on Thursday, with an eye to arranging a meeting between the two men, according to a diplomatic source.
By Thursday afternoon, Rivlin announced that Abbas was evidently not interested in talking with him, even though he would have welcomed such an opportunity.
“On a personal level I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas, my friend Abu Mazen, refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders,” Rivlin said.
Instead, Abbas “turns again and again to the support of the international community,” Rivlin said. “We can talk. We can talk directly and find a way to build confidence.
“We will not be able to build trust between us if we do not begin to speak directly and to look at what we can do and what can be done and not at what cannot be done,” Rivlin said.
“Direct talks is the only possible way to build trust and to resolve the conditions for a peace perspective between Palestinians and Israelis,” Rivlin said. “There are no shortcuts, no detours in the Middle East.”
He spoke during a joint press conference with Mogherini, who refused to directly comment on Abbas’s decision not to talk with Rivlin.
But she did affirm the significance of face-to-face negotiations.
“No one can replace the willingness of the parties to engage in direct negotiations,” Mogherini said.
The Palestinians, however, have preferred an internalized process and only want to talk with Israel, once the parameters of a final-status agreement have been set.
In his speech before the parliament earlier in the day, Abbas set out his parameters for a peace-deal with Israel.
The borders of the two-state solution should be at the pre-1967 lines with a just negotiated solution for Palestinian refugees, Abbas said.
He is not opposed to limited “land swaps” of equal value, Abbas added.
The Palestinians, he said, support a new French initiative which calls for an international peace conference later in the year that would then set the parameters for renewed negotiations with Israel.
Any such talks must have a timeline, Abbas said. There also needs to be monitoring mechanism to insure compliance with any agreements that come out of that conference, he said.
The Palestinian president called on the EU to help his people recognize their right to self-determination by achieving statehood.
“Provisional solutions are a complete waste of time. We do not accept a Palestinian state with provisional borders,” Abbas said. “We want peace for everyone in our region.”
Should the 2002 Arab peace initiative be used as a basis for a peace process, it should not be amended, Abbas said.
“We are against provocation, against extremism,” the Palestinian president told the EU parliamentarians, adding that his people stands with them in their battle against terrorism.
“We are against terrorism in whatever form it may take and whoever carries it out,” Abbas said to strong applause.
“In order to overcome terrorism, we also need to end Israeli occupation by creating a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Abbas said. He spoke in Arabic and his words were translated into English by the EU.
The absence of a two-state solution, he said, would give “pretext to those who commit terrorism in the name of religion.”
However, he said, “once this occupation ends, those pretexts will disappears and extremism will be over as will terrorism. There will be no more terrorism in the Middle East nor elsewhere in the world,” Abbas said.
His speech did not touch on Palestinian terrorism against Israelis, including the shooting attack in which two Palestinian terrorists killed four Israelis as they sat in a Tel Aviv cafe in the Sarona Market earlier this month.
He did, however, accuse Israel of massacring Palestinians and other atrocities against his people, including turning the Palestinian territories into an “open air prison.”
He also alleged that rabbis had encouraged Israelis to poison the Palestinian water supply.
“Certain rabbis in Israel have said very clearly to their government that our water should be poisoned in order to have Palestinians killed. That is provocation and we are against this sort of call for violence,” Abbas said.
Even Israelis themselves acknowledge their country’s injustice, Abbas said. Some Israeli politicians, such as Opposition leader Issac Herzog, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and former prime minister Ehud Barak, have criticized their own governments, Abbas said. Journalists have also spoken up on behalf of the Palestinians, Abbas said.
“All these people, Israelis, are now saying that the Israeli government’s behavior is fascist and racist, and I’m quoting them here,” Abbas said.
Despite such inflammatory rhetoric, he also used the European Parliament to speak to the Israeli public about peace.
“Our hands are extended with a desire for peace,” Abbas said. “We have the political will to achieve peace and we ask you [Israelis], do you have the same political will to achieve peace and to acknowledge the historic injustice your state has exacted on our country?” Abbas asked.
“Our history has been frankly one of a continued existence in this territory since the dawn of civilization until now,” he said.
“Peace is in everyone’s interest and I hope that you, Israelis, neighbors, believe in that, too. “Let us build a peace, which does not involve hegemony or colonization or aggression,” Abbas said.
There should be “peace and coexistence on the basis of justice, law, respect and dignity for all parties involved on an equal footing,” Abbas said.
“That peace will be a genuine guarantee of security, stability and a promising future for our generations to come,” he added.