RAMALLAH, West Bank — In a conversation with senior Haaretz correspondents ahead of the Israel Conference on Peace in Tel Aviv on July 8, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he wanted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the killing of three 16-year-old Palestinian boys, who were shot by Israeli soldiers over the past week, just as Abbas himself denounced the kidnapping of the three Israeli youths in Gush Etzion.
“I said the kidnapping was a crime, but does that justify the killing of three Palestinian teens in cold blood?” Abbas asked, adding, “What does Netanyahu have to say about the killings? Does he condemn it? Look at what’s happened all over the West Bank over the past days, the violence and the destruction of homes. Is that justified?”
Abbas continued that Netanyahu needed to “see how his soldiers behave toward Palestinians. What will I tell the families of the three Palestinian teens who were killed? Why were they killed? We’re human beings, just like you. Can the Israeli government demonstrate the same feelings and say they are human beings and deserve to live? The Palestinian people are frustrated over how they are treated. As if the Israelis were human beings and the Palestinians are not. We don’t want terror and we don’t want war. We want peace.”
Abbas was visibly upset when he spoke about the implications of the ongoing Israel Defense Forces operation on the Palestinian civilian population. He was particularly angry about the threats voiced by high-ranking IDF officers to disrupt the lives of the Palestinians during the month of Ramadan, which begins later this month.
“Anyone who wants to punish people during Ramadan, and who kills people during Ramadan, doesn’t want peace,” the Palestinian president said, echoing the message he delivered in a phone conversation on Saturday with the head of the Israeli opposition, Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog.
The Prime Minister’s Office stated in response, “Abu Mazen’s words would have substance if he dissolved his alliance with Hamas, the organization behind this abduction and which calls for the destruction of Israel.”
Further, in a conversation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend, Netanyahu said the information held by Israel clearly indicated Hamas is responsible for the kidnapping. Netanyahu told Ban that this was cause for Abbas to end his alliance with the organization.
Abbas' aides say that it is not yet clear what Hamas' involvement was in the kidnappings, or what levels within the organization were involved in the attack. However, they indicate that if Hamas was behind the kidnappings, it would have implications for the unity government.
"If Hamas was behind it, which no one can say right now, then this would be a blow to the reconciliation process," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki told Reuters this weekend. "If we reach that conclusion, then the president will make drastic decisions."
The Palestinian president himself is more cautious when asked about the consequences of the kidnapping on the unity government. "I have no credible information that Hamas was behind the kidnapping," Abbas said.
"Does Netanyahu have such information? I do not intend to punish anyone based off suspicions or because Netanyahu claims something. When Netanyahu has such information, he needs to updates me and we will take care of the matter according to our own laws."
However, he also hints that there would be consequences if it turns out Hamas were involved in the kidnapping.
"When the picture becomes clearer, we will decide how to act. Our position will be based on of Palestinian interests and will be affected by our relationship with Israel," he added.
Abbas noted that beyond his condemnation of the abductions, Palestinian security forces work in coordination with Israeli security forces, a coordination that still currently exists.
He said that since the beginning of 2013, Palestinian security forces have thwarted at least 43 attempts to kidnap and harm Israeli civilians.
He added that Palestinian security forces extract Israelis from Palestinian cities and safely return them to Israel on a daily basis.
"I do not want to make excuses, but the kidnapping occurred in Israeli-controlled Area C," Abbas said. "In addition, the Israelis didn't brief us on the kidnapping until 12 hours after the fact. Our security forces began to search for the hostages immediately after this."
Abbas noted that efforts to implement the reconciliation are first and foremost meant to promote elections in the Palestinian Authority.
"We want to promote the elections to gain legitimacy for the Palestinian people, and on this basis we operate and continue in this direction."
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