Peres phones Abbas, as PM urges him to hold talks

Netanyahu says he is ready to return to negotiations with PA "today"; Olmert says Gov’t has bolstered Hamas and weakened PA.

Shimon Peres 370 (photo credit: Wikicommons)
Shimon Peres 370
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
President Shimon Peres called his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, on Sunday, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and right-wing politicians continued to criticize Abbas’s plea for renewed negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines.
Both former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who each negotiated with Abbas, confirmed that his comments to Channel 2 on Friday night, were consistent with what he had told them during their talks.
Abbas appeared to give up on the “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees and their descendants when a final-status agreement is reached.
Olmert said Netanyahu, former US president George W. Bush and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice all knew this.
Under Netanyahu’s government, Olmert said, negotiations had been frozen and there had been an effort to prove to the Israeli public that there was no partner for peace.
“The government has taken steps to strengthen Hamas and to weaken the PA, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, an organization which espouses nonviolence and negotiations for peace,” Olmert said.
“This kind of policy toward the only possible peace partner between us and the Palestinians is irresponsible and harms the vital interests of the State of Israel. The interviews that Abbas gave in recent days are proof to the Israeli public that we have somebody to talk to in order to end this bloody conflict between our nations, which has lasted far too long,” the former prime minister continued.
Abbas later told Egyptian television that he upheld the “right of return,” but that he was free to state his personal opinion, that he did not believe he would live in the Galilee city of Safed where he was born.
At the weekly Sunday cabinet meeting, Netanyahu dismissed the significance of Abbas’s remarks and urged him to immediately hold peace talks with Israel.
“I watched President Abbas’s interview over the weekend. I have heard that he has already managed to go back on his remarks,” the prime minister said.
“This only proves the importance of direct negotiations without preconditions.
Generally, I can say that if Abu Mazen [Abbas] is really serious and intends to advance peace, as far as I am concerned, we can sit together immediately. Jerusalem and Ramallah are only seven minutes apart; I am ready to start negotiations today,” Netanyahu said.
He also took issue with Abbas’s statement that the Palestinian Authority planned to ask the UN General Assembly this month to upgrade its status to that of a non-member state.
“Peace may be advanced only around the negotiating table and not via unilateral decisions in the UN General Assembly, which will only push peace further away and will only lead to instability,” Netanyahu said.
A Israeli official added that such a step would be a fundamental breach of the Oslo Accords, in which the Palestinians committed themselves to resolve all issues through negotiations.
If the Palestinians made good on their threat to head to the UN, Israel would be forced to respond, the official said.
It could lead to a chain of events that would create instability in the area, the official added.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz warned that Israel could withhold the transfer of tax funds to the PA.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called Abbas a “liar” and accused him of interfering in the Israeli election.
“Abbas is interfering, to the benefit of the Left, [Labor chairwoman] Shelly Yacimovich and [Meretz chairwoman] Zehava Gal-On, who represent Palestinian interests in Israel,” Liberman told Army Radio.
“Let’s compare what he said just two months ago to the UN General Assembly, or last year to that same body. Or what he says in Arabic and not in English,” the foreign minister said.
He added that Abbas had spoken of Israeli actions as “land theft” and “crimes against humanity.” Abbas called suicide bombers who killed Israelis “heroes,” Liberman said.
Abbas had not given up on the “right of return” and had no intention to do so, he said.
A number of Likud ministers and MKs also spoke against Abbas and Olmert.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar accused Olmert of complicating matters for Israel by offering Abbas far-reaching concessions during his tenure as prime minister, including agreeing to an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, lines and the partition of Jerusalem as part of a peace deal, which Abbas now considers a baseline for negotiations.
Sa’ar said it was “outrageous” that Olmert had “not leveled even one word of criticism at the Palestinian Authority despite [Abbas’s] deliberate refusal for four years to negotiate with Israel.”
Likud MK Danny Danon said Olmert had no right to criticize the government, given that he was recently convicted of breach of trust and in light of his past leadership failures.
“If Olmert wants to protect the security of Israel, then he should remain outside the political system so as not to cause any more damage,” Danon said.
Olmert is considering running in January’s election, but does not plan to decide until November 15.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak defended Abbas in an interview with Army Radio, saying the Palestinian president “is not joining ‘Likud Beytenu’ and not Zionist youth movements, because he is the Palestinian leader, but you can’t say we have no partner with [Abbas].”
In an interview on Channel 2 on Sunday night, Livni blamed Netanyahu for the lack of trust that has existed between the two sides for the past four years.
She said that one needed only to look at the sound bites of blame that had come out of his government in response to Abbas’s interview.
She charged that Liberman was leading a campaign to topple Abbas, something that would only strengthen it.
This was bad for Israel’s security, Livni said.
“Anyone who is interested in preserving a secure Jewish, democratic state, including those on the Right, must embrace what [Abbas] said in the interview, that he wants to end the conflict on the basis of the principle of two states,” Livni said.
“We have become a nation where peace has become a dirty word. Anyone who speaks of an agreement has become a delusional leftist. I represent the Israelis who want to live here with security in a Jewish nation,” Livni said.
Peace Now plans to project text from Abbas’s on the wall of the Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday evening.
Greer Fay Cashman and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.