Abbas: I Agreed to Meet Netanyahu, but Israel Never Responded

Palestinian president tells Israeli journalists of direct contacts with Israel; Prime Minister's Office denies claims.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a press conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Jan. 6, 2016.
AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday evening that there have been contacts in recent months to set up a meeting between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but that he has yet to get a response from the Israeli side.

Speaking to a group of Israeli journalists, Abbas said that during informal contacts between the staffers of the two leaders, the idea of such a meeting was raised and he agreed.

“I agreed and appointed two people to prepare for the meeting with Netanyahu, but since then they haven’t gotten back to us,” he said. The contacts about the meeting were direct, without American intervention, Abbas added.

The Prime Minister's Office denied Abbas' claims. "This is an attempt by Abu Mazen (Abbas) to avoid taking responsibility for the lack of negotiations. Even today in Davos, Netanyahu called on Abu Mazen to [resume] negotiations without preconditions.

The Palestinian president reiterated that the opening of negotiations with Israel would have to be based on two principles: a full construction freeze in West Bank settlements while talks were going on, and the release of the fourth group of prisoners incarcerated since before the Oslo Accords, who were meant to be freed in 2014.

“These are not preconditions,” Abbas said. “These are understandings we already had between us and Netanyahu didn’t want to fulfill them.”

Abbas said that low-level contacts between the two sides continue and security coordination is also proceeding as of that minute, as he put it, adding he could not promise what would be in the future.

Addressing the attacks Hamas is planning, Abbas said that Palestinian security forces are doing all they can to preserve Palestinian security first and foremost, but also to prevent the violence from sliding toward the Israeli side.

He said that security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel had to be mutual, but that Israel was continuously violating it with daily raids of homes and arrests.  “Two weeks ago there was an incident in which they almost reached my home and ran into my bodyguards,” Abbas said. “What kind of coordination is that?”

Referring to the wave of violence over the past few months, Abbas said he opposes violence per se as well as bloodshed, and that he had always supported a popular, nonviolent struggle.

“I am against every drop of unjustified blood and against murder for no reason; we believe this and these are our values and what the Koran says,” Abbas said. He said several times that he is against any type of extremism, including religious extremism, whether it be Muslim, Jewish or Christian. “We must not turn the conflict into a religious struggle because that’s dangerous and it gives an opportunity for terror elements in the Arab world to lead a religious conflict and we don’t want that,” he said.

Asked by Haaretz about the PA plans to push through an anti-settlement resolution in the UN Security Council and when such a process might be launched, Abbas said the Palestinians are adopting resolutions by the international community that do not accept the settlement enterprise, which is why the Palestinians are seeking a condemnation of the settlements and international protection against Israeli violence.

As for the timetable, Abbas said that an Arab League-sponsored committee including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, along with the Arab League secretary-general and the PA, is preparing proposals, and last week there was a meeting in Cairo to coordinate things. The committee, he said, would decide on when to submit draft resolutions to the Security Council. Abbas said the Obama administration had not given him any indication as to the American position and whether it would veto such a resolution.

Abbas added that he did not expect any new initiatives by the United States, which is why the PA leadership thinks an international conference is needed.

He stressed that the Palestinian Authority has been an achievement for the Palestinian people and that there was no plan to dissolve it, but a great deal depended on Israel. “We want the PA as an opening toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, but if Israel continues its policy of incursions and attacks on Palestinians and blocks any move toward progress on the diplomatic horizon then Israel essentially doesn’t want the PA and wants to dismantle it.”

Abbas said that he was not planning to resign, but if for whatever reason he cannot function, Fatah and the PLO institutions have a clear succession mechanism. Just as he ran for office and was elected, he said, anyone can do the same, including Marwan Barghouti, a member of the Fatah central committee, who is in an Israeli prison serving five life terms for the murder of Israelis.