Abbas: Palestinians Won't Share Al-Aqsa Mosque, but Jews Can Pray at Western Wall

Palestinian president, addressing Israeli students, says East should go to Palestinians, West to Israel; shows flexibility on refugees issue.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday the Palestinian Authority would not agree to share sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem in the course of a peace deal with Israel, but would allow freedom of worship for Jews in the Western Wall Plaza.

Addressing about 300 Israeli students at a meeting in Ramallah, organized by the Lobby for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict and by a Palestinian group for promoting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, Abbas added that he sees no reason to re-divide Jerusalem, adding that a Palestinian municipality could be established in East Jerusalem, which will coordinate with an Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem via a higher body.

Abbas dismissed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, and said he is not responsible for Israel's demographics. "If Netanyahu wants such recognition, he can turn to the United Nations," he said.

Abbas added that Israel did not make a similar demand in the Oslo Accords, or in the negotiations leading to the peace deals with Egypt and Jordan. "This demand places an obstacle in the way of peace," he said.

Regarding the issue of Palestinian refugees, Abbas said he does not want to "drown Israel with millions of [Palestinian] refugees to change its nature."

Today, the refugees and their descendants number about five million people. In Israel, there is broad consensus against accepting a large-scale resettling of these refugees in any future peace deal with the Palestinians, amid fears the returnees would dilute Israel's Jewish majority.

Abbas told his Israeli visitors he seeks a "creative solution" for refugees, suggesting he is not demanding a blanket "right of return."

Answering a question on whether the Palestinian Authority would be willing to accept Israeli settlers remaining under the jurisdiction of a future Palestinian state, the same as the Arab minority living in Israel, Abbas said the analogy is flawed, but even so the discussion of the issue is premature. "First of all, give me the borders of the Palestinian state and then we'll discuss the repercussions and minor details," he said.

Regarding borders, Abbas reiterated that the Palestinians want to negotiate borders based on the 1967 lines with agreed-upon land swaps.

Abbas said he sees no reason to extend the peace talks with Israel as long as no proposal forming a basis for a future agreement has been put on the table. Regarding possible scenarios after the time allotted for the negotiation expires, Abbas said: "I prefer the diplomatic solution, and I dislike courts. But if we have no choice? I ask you what you would do."

Abbas admitted that anti-Israeli incitement exists among Palestinians, but noted that the same can be found on the Israeli side. "We've agreed with the Americans to establish a joint committee on the issue with the Americans 13 years ago, but Israel is opposed," he said.

Abbas also commented on what he termed "stereotypes or Israeli lies disseminated against him." According to Abbas, "they accuse me of being an anti-Semite and a Holocaust-denier and I wrote then and quoted the Koran, which says there's no justice in killing and murdering a person for who he is. I meet in every trip abroad with Jewish community leaders and discuss the importance of peace with them. Those who accuse me of such things are looking for an excuse not to progress with the peace talks."

Abbas said that any future deal must include the Gaza Strip, and that Hamas leadership assured him that should a deal be reached that corresponds with the Palestinian consensus Hamas will follow suit.

Meanwhile, Hamas condemned Abbas' meeting with the Israeli students, terming it part of the "murderous Israelis' normalization campaign" aimed to improve Israel's image abroad.

Hamas Spokesperson Sammy Abu Zohari called for such meetings to stop, and said they mark the deterioration of the Palestinian Authority.

On Friday, Abu Zohari said that the organization would treat any and all international presence in the Palestinian territories as an occupation force. Zohari was relating to the guidelines being included in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's framework agreement regarding a future deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Once in a while, we hear of proposals regarding negotiations that include acceptance of the presence of an international force after the occupation's forces retreat...we in Hamas we will never accept such a presence, and we will regard them as occupation forces in every respect. John Kerry and the others should reconsider their positions, we did not grant our mandate to anybody to give up our rights."

Abu Zohari spoke during a rally Friday evening in the southern Gaza Strip, which called for setting up a unity coalition that would include all Palestinian factions that oppose the continuation of negotiations with Israel, and any agreement that would come out of them.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (center), in a meeting with Israeli students in Ramallah. February 16, 2014.Credit: AFP

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