Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walks with Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (unseen) as they review the honor guard in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shunning Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in peace talks "because he wants another intifada," the Palestinian leader charged on Sunday.
Abbas said that despite the horrific arson attack in the village of Duma on Friday, his security forces will continue to coordinate their activities with Israel while working to prevent any acts of vengeance.
A delegation of lawmakers from the dovish Meretz Party received reassurances from Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday that as long as he was in charge, his regime would make every effort to prevent terrorism against Israelis.
"The attack in Duma was a crime against humanity," the Palestinian leader was quoted as telling the Meretz members. "We cannot say this was a crime committed by a crazy man. We need to view this as a terrorist attack. Condemnations and expressions of sorrow are not enough. There need to be genuine steps taken [by Israel] against terrorists who burn families."
Meretz chair Zehava Gal-On said she spoke on behalf of the Israeli public in expressing its "shock" over the attack.
Abbas then proceeded to criticize Netanyahu, accusing the Israeli leader of refusing to engage in sincere peace talks.
"Why does Netanyahu say there is no partner for peace?" Abbas said. "Is it because he has no interest in peace? His best weapon is the intifada."
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Abbas told the Meretz lawmakers that Ramallah is opposed to a boycott of Israel proper. Instead, it seeks a boycott of the settlements, the Palestinian leader said.
"What do you want me to do?" Abbas told a group of MKs. "As long as I'm sitting in this chair, I will not allow harm to come to Israelis. I will continue fighting terrorism and violence with all my might."
The Palestinian leader told his Israeli guests that the PA's security apparatus was "keeping its eyes open during this tense time" - just two days after the arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists that killed a Palestinian toddler near Nablus.
"As long as I'm here, there won't be an Islamic State or a Nusra Front [in the West Bank]," he said.
Abbas told the Meretz delegation that his advanced age needs to be factored into the regional calculus.
"Time is running out," he said. "I'm 80 years old. As long as I'm here, the authority will continue to act against attempts to harm Jews."
Nonetheless, Abbas said that Israel's continued settlement activity poses a problem.
"Sometimes I dream that I wake up in the morning and find a settlement right here in the Muqata," he said. "What possibilities are we left with [if building continues]?"
Abbas told the Meretz MKs of a meeting he briefly held with Interior Minister Silvan Shalom.
"[Palestinian chief negotiator] Saeb Erekat asked me to meet with Silvan Shalom," Abbas said. "I told him that the way I see it, ahlan wasahlan
, I'm willing to meet with anyone, even [Naftali] Bennett."
The Meretz delegation included Gal-On as well as other senior party officials, among them former MK Mussi Raz.
Esawi Frej, the lone Arab lawmaker in the Meretz faction, described an atmosphere of "desperation."
"The meeting today was a difficult one," Frej said. "There was desperation in the air, an understanding that we are approaching the point in time in which it will be too late [for a two-state solution]."
"Abu Mazen (Abbas' nom de guerre) is doing all he can to maintain quiet, but he told us of his fear that if Israel is not quick to act, it is uncertain that it will have someone to work with once he is gone," he said.
"Freezing of settlements and releasing the fourth tranche of Palestinian prisoners as Israel had promised is not a steep price for exploiting what is perhaps the final opportunity to return to the negotiating table," Frej said. "Unfortunately, Abu Mazen gives off the impression of a partner, but he has no partner on the other side."
"The Netanyahu government doesn't really want to talk," he said. "It's not really ready to make the concessions that can lead to calm, and this reality is sad and deflating."
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