By HERB KEINON, JPOST—
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem on Tuesday, the same day he spoke by phone with both Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho.
Abbas issued a statement Tuesday, marking the 43rd anniversary of an attempt by deranged Australian Christian Denis Michael Rohan to set fire to al-Aksa mosque, saying that Jerusalem’s Arab and Islamic identity was a Palestinian red line.
Highlighting the necessity of the protection of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites, Abbas said “the fire, set by a criminal under the eyes of the Israeli Occupation Authorities, was the first in a series aiming to demolish al- Aksa mosque and build the alleged Temple in order to uproot its citizens, Judaize it and eternalize its occupation.”
The statement read that all Israeli excavation work in Jerusalem, and tunnels underneath the mosque, “will not undermine the fact that the city will forever be Arabic, Islamic and Christian.”
Abbas’ statement warned against what it called “the dangers surrounding Jerusalem and its al-Aksa mosque by the Israeli government and municipality which aims to steal more lands and enact unfair legislations against the Palestinian institutions.”
The statement concluded “that there will be no peace or stability before our beloved city and eternal capital is liberated from occupation and settlement.”
Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said in response that he hoped the Palestinian leadership was not denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, which goes back 3,000 years. “Ignoring that connection is to ignore reality,” he said, and will do nothing to advance peace and reconciliation Regev said he was “disappointed” to hear the mainstream Palestinian leadership “echo outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the Temple Mount, conspiracy theories that are the usual domain of extremist elements.” He added that only under Israeli control has Jerusalem enjoyed a period of unparalleled growth and development, under which the religious rights of all, and the holy sites, were protected.
“This is in stark contrast to the reality before 1967,” Regev said.
The tone of Abbas’ statement dispelled the notion that a series of phone calls recently might lead to a slight change in atmosphere.
Barak phoned Abbas on Tuesday to send well-wishes on the occasion of Id al-Fitr.
Barak’s call followed a similar call Netanyahu made to Abbas Saturday night, at the onset of the festival. With no negotiations currently taking place between Israel and the PA, such calls at the top leadership level are infrequent.
A statement released by Barak said the two men discussed the situation in the region and ways to renew the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians. A source in Abbas’s office in Ramallah confirmed the conversation took place and that the two talked about the diplomatic process, but said that it was unlikely the gesture would have any political results in the near future.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Molcho phoned Abbas, as well as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Tuesday, to update them on the health status of the six Palestinians hurt in a fire bomb attack on a taxi near Bat Ayin on Thursday.
Netanyahu spoke about the matter with Abbas when he called him Saturday, and his office has on three different occasions issued statements since then relating to the issue. The first statement contained Netanyahu’s condemnation, the second was a letter he wrote to Abbas not only condemning the incident, but also promising all efforts would be made to apprehend those responsible, and the third was a statement to the effect that the issue had been brought up again during the Saturday night phone call.
There are a number of reasons Netanyahu has reached out so publicly to the Palestinian leadership on this issue, a government official said. First, he explained, this behavior is abhorrent, unjustifiable and must be stamped out.
Second, because those responsible are giving Israel, Zionism and the settlement enterprise a bad name. Third, out of concern that this violence plays into the hands of the most anti-Israel narrative and gives “ammunition to Israel’s enemies.” Fourth, because there is close security coordination between Israel and the PA, and Israel has given a commitment to stamp out this type of activity.
And finally, out of concern that Palestinian extremists could use these acts as a trigger for Palestinian violence.
In a related development, UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry warned Monday evening that the PA was losing legitimacy in the absence of any diplomatic process.
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the international model UN event at the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Lezion, Serry said that the Israeli- Palestinian peace process is not “all about the money.”
“Some think that a strong Palestinian economy will be enough to maintain stability in the West Bank, something that is both a Palestinian and an Israeli interest,” he said.
“Yet economic growth alone will not assure a sustainable future. This is because the Palestinian Authority is quickly, in my view, losing its legitimacy in the eye of the public, if it is not able to bring also the political goal forwards – the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.”
Serry said that recent events in the region have shown that “no political institution can survive if it rests only on economics and lacks political legitimacy.”
These sentiments, which Serry has articulated numerous times in the past, are at odds with some senior officials in Jerusalem, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who believe that setting a strong Palestinian economic base can go a long way toward eventually solving the outstanding problems.
Indeed, at a gathering of European foreign ministers in December, many of whom share Serry’s view, Liberman said that propping up the middle class was a key to eventually finding a solution.
“My suggestion is to bypass highly disputed political issues, which cannot be resolved in the present,” he said. “Once economic growth is allowed to take root and enable the formation of a strong middle class, I have no doubt that the difficult political issues, which seem irresolvable today, will lend themselves to resolution.”