Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denies he has incited the violence that has racked East Jerusalem and the West Bank this month, saying his public statements and instructions to his security forces make clear he wants to calm the situation, he told Haaretz in an interview.
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The remarks came amid clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces across the West Bank.
“I support a popular, nonviolent struggle and oppose all violence and use of weapons. I’ve made clear a number of times that I don’t want to return to the cycle of violence,” Abbas told Haaretz in his Ramallah office.
“We do not seek violence and have not sought to escalate it, but the aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the worshippers in the mosque have led to this, and we are constantly trying to make sure it doesn’t intensify.”
On Monday, Abbas had told the heads of the Palestinian security services to prevent an escalation, but such a situation requires similar conduct by Israel, he said.
“How do you expect the Palestinian street to react after the burning of the teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the torching of the Dawabsheh home, the settlers’ aggression and the damage to property under the eyes of the soldiers who protect [the settlers],” he said.
“The Palestinians respond with stones and Israel responds with live fire by government order, and that’s very serious. Now they want to destroy homes and bring in more forces, and that will simply intensify the hate,” he added.
“I am prepared to act against violence and am taking steps in this direction, and the security apparatuses won’t use force or weapons but will maintain order. If there is no friction there will be no confrontation, and those who seek an arrangement will work to prevent friction and restore calm.”
‘Take the keys’
Abbas said he had heard about Israeli proposals to seize control of Palestinian cities in a broader military operation.
“If they insist on continuing the occupation, I say to them, be my guest,” he said. “They don’t have to use military force, they can just come and take the keys.”
Abbas noted that the events of recent days followed a few successes: his UN speech in New York and the raising of the Palestinian flag in front of the building. But he remains disappointed that U.S. President Barack Obama did not mention the Palestinian issue in his speech.
“I’m sorry about that, but more important to me is that most of the world supports us and supports the Palestinian moves, and we will continue the diplomatic struggle to attain our rights. We will not return to violence and will not use an approach that leads to bloodshed,” he said.
“I have said over and over that I am in favor of a popular, nonviolent struggle and in favor of working in the UN institutions and international organizations, including the International [Criminal] Court,” he added.
“We will continue to act in this context in the hope that it will deter the Israeli government and lead it to the conclusion that we are in favor of an agreement and in favor of peace. I will not act by any other means. I have no one left to complain to; I have already complained to God.”
In his UN speech, Abbas declared that the Palestinian Authority was no longer bound by its agreements with Israel, but he declined to say how this would be translated into action.
“We are obligated to agreements, but the Israeli government has broken them all the time. I conveyed messages via [former ministers] Silvan Shalom and Meir Sheetrit, and now via the Americans, and so far I have received no response,” he said.
“If this goes on we will act as we see fit. This situation of maintaining the status quo without an agreement and with continued construction in the settlements cannot go on. This cannot be dragged out forever.”
Seeking prisoner releases
Abbas made clear he had heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for a resumption of talks.
“Netanyahu says negotiations without preconditions but immediately says I have to recognize the State of Israel as the Jewish state. The PLO recognized Israel back in ’93, and how Israel defines itself is an internal matter for the government and Israelis,” he said.
“I am prepared to reopen negotiations based on the principles the Israeli government has already committed to – to freeze construction in the settlements during the talks and to free the fourth group of long-term prisoners,” he added.
“These are not conditions but Israeli commitments; the issue of the prisoners was finalized here in my office, and [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry spoke to Netanyahu and we agreed. Even when he asked for four rounds [of prisoner releases] I said yes, even though we paid a price for that.”
Abbas said that at this point no new initiatives were on the table, though the French initiative – which sets a deadline for reaching an agreement – was still a possibility. But he said the Palestinians were continuing contacts to submit a new UN Security Council resolution that would recognize a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders; such a resolution might even be submitted by the end of the year.
Abbas said he had not received any promises from the Americans to withhold a pro-Israel veto at the Security Council, but that the issue continued to come up. He added, however, that the two sides did not need U.S. intervention if there were a true willingness for an agreement.
“We signed Oslo directly with Israel, so if there’s an honest willingness we can speak directly,” he said, referring to the Oslo Accords signed two decades ago.
Asked about his political future and rumors that he intended to resign, Abbas smiled. “I’ve been through several Israeli prime ministers, since the days of Shamir,” he said, referring to Yitzhak Shamir, who left office in 1992.
“When someone goes away, someone else comes along. We’re working to convene the Palestinian National Council, the main representative body of all Palestinians. It’s my right to tell them I quit and their right to ask me to quit. It’s a basic democratic principle, and we follow those principles."