Bibi smiling and pointing 311 ap.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Prime Minister’s Office reacted with anger on Tuesday night to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s warning that a “religious war” could be sparked by Israel’s decision to place the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem on its heritage sites list.
The Palestinian campaign against these two sites was “untruthful and hypocritical,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Nir Hefetz said in a statement he issued to the media.
Abbas spoke to EU parliamentarians in Brussels, two days after the cabinet added both of the ancient Jewish West Bank sites to its list of historical, religious and cultural sites that would be marked for preservation and restoration.
He warned that the move could bring about a third intifada.
“This is a dangerous provocation. Israel took this step precisely after US President Barack Obama urged it to take confidence-building measures vis-à-vis the Palestinians,” Abbas said.
“We have reached a very critical stage which necessitates an intensive, coordinated international effort. Settlement construction, which kills the peace process and contradicts Israel’s obligations under the road map, must be stopped,” he said.
Hefetz said in response, “Israel is committed to freedom of worship for all religions in all the holy places, and this is the way it operates in practice. Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarch – the burial place for more than 3,500 years of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people – are certainly worthy of being refurbished and preserved.”
Maintenance work was currently being completed on the entrance and the road leading to the Muslim prayer room in the Cave of the Patriarchs, said Hefetz. Likewise, he said, Israel would provide maintenance for the area used by Jews in the Tomb.
Another spokesman, Mark Regev, said peace between Israelis and Palestinians must be based on “mutual respect.”
“Just as Israel understands the Muslim connection to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, we are entitled to hear from the Palestinian side that they respect our connection to a site that is very important to the Jewish people,” Regev said. “It is disappointing to hear other messages from the Palestinian leadership.”
On a gentler note in Brussels, Abbas added that the EU and the US each had important parts to play in the peace process, and that any delay in the resumption of talks would render the possibility of peace more remote.
Throughout his speech, Abbas reiterated that the impasse in Middle East peace talks could be attributed solely to Israel’s refusal to accept existing agreements, and not to an alleged Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table.
Abbas stressed that not every issue was negotiable. If Israel wished to begin negotiations, he said, it must stop creating facts on the ground by continuing to expand Jewish communities in Palestinian areas, including in east Jerusalem.
In Brussels, Abbas also met the president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek of Poland.
Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said Abbas was denying the Jewish connection to the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, in the same way that he once denied the Holocaust.
“He is denying Jewish history, and by doing so, the very existence of the Jewish people,” Dayan said.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.