Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, AP
Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Photo by AP
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, due to leave today on a state visit to the United States, yesterday slammed an op-ed published by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbasin the New York Times. In an unusual move, Netanyahu released a signed response to the op-ed, accusing Abbas of blatantly distorting history.

Netanyahu took particular issue with the Palestinian president's description of the events of 1948, the war and the beginning of the Palestinian refugee problem. "This is a blatant distortion of well-known, documented historic facts," he wrote. "The Palestinians were the ones who declined the partition plan into two states, which was upheld by the Jewish yishuv. Arab armies aided by Palestinians were the ones who attacked the Jewish state in a bid to destroy it. None of this is mentioned in the op-ed. It is also possible to deduce from the article that the Palestinian leadership sees the establishment of a Palestinian state as a means to continue the conflict with Israel, rather than to end it."

Sources in the Prime Minister's office had even harsher words. "One can only conclude from this article that Abbas has decided to turn his back on even pretending to be walking the road of peace, and instead chose the strategy of setting up a Palestinian state and then using this improved position to wage a diplomatic and legal war against Israel," one source said. He stressed that while Israel remains committed to the two-state solution, "Abbas, sadly, chose a different path."

Officials in Netanyahu's office went on to dissect the Abbas op-ed, pointing out various claims which they said were false. One point they stressed in particular was Abbas's assertion that Palestinian refugees were the cause, rather than the result, of the war. They said that in more than one location, it was the Palestinian leaders who urged Palestinians to get out of the way of the advancing Arab armies.

The sources also said Abbas's strategy in the past two years was to avoid negotiations with Israel.The demand for a settlement freeze as a pre-condition was also a way to put off negotiations, they said. They bemoaned the fact that the Palestinian president had no moral qualms about a reconciliation with the Hamas, which refuses to recognize the existence of Israel.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama said it was "more vital than ever" to work to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts even as political upheaval engulfs much of the broader Middle East.

Speaking after talks with Jordan's King Abdullah at the start of a week of intense diplomacy, Obama pledged to keep pressing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president is due to deliver a major policy speech on the "Arab Spring" on Thursday, to meet Netanyahu on Friday, and to address AIPAC on Sunday.