WEST BANK: Abbas tells Israelis peace more important than settlements
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday called on Israelis to choose peace over settlements, urging them not to waste this opportunity.
“To the Israeli people I say: Making peace is more important than settlements,” said Abbas as tens of thousands of Palestinians from all over the West Bank rallied at his headquarters to mark the sixth anniversary of the death of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, founder of Fatah movement.
“Let us make peace before this opportunity is lost,” he urged the Israelis. “We pray to God that they would take this opportunity, but hopefully not too late.”
At the rally, Palestinians, mainly from Fatah, the largest secular Palestinian political movement, chanted slogans supportive of Abbas.
“Abu Mazen (Abbas’ popular title), continue on your path and we are behind you until liberation,” they chanted, raising his picture as well as Fatah’s yellow flags and the black, white, green and red Palestinian flag.
On the platform where Abbas stood and spoke, a huge picture of Arafat was posted next to the slogan: “The position is firm –- A state without settlements –- Jerusalem is the capital -– the Return.”
“This slogan says it all in few words,” he said. “It summarizes the issue in few, expressive and simple words. We do not want settlements on our land. All settlements are illegal. Jerusalem is our capital and return of refugees to the homeland is our right granted in UN resolutions.”
Abbas recalled what President Obama had said in his speech at the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in September.
“President Obama said he hopes a new state will become a full fledged member of the United Nations next year. We are the only ones left in the whole world and we hope this will not become just a slogan to be postponed every year,” said Abbas.
Arafat died at a French hospital where he was taken after becoming seriously ill; he was 75. His death followed years of Israeli military siege of his Ramallah compound and for Palestinians it remains a mystery, even though many, including officials, believe he was poisoned by the Israelis.
Nasser al-Qudwa, head of the Yasser Arafat Institute and a member of Fatah Central Committee, said at the rally that he will not rest until the mystery of Arafat’s death is solved. He said Arafat was poisoned, even though the French medical reports did not confirm that.
Turning to his arch rival, the Islamist movement Hamas, Abbas urged its leaders in Gaza and Damascus to end the split in the Palestinian ranks caused after the Hamas military takeover of Gaza in June 2007.
Hamas banned Fatah from holding a memorial rally for Arafat in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas denounced what he termed as “agendas” by regional powers interfering in Palestinian affairs.
“There are some who want us to be fighting for their own regional interests,” he said. “They claim the U.S. has veto power over our decision. Our national unity is much more important than personal or regional agendas. It is more important than any veto, not only from the Americans but also from the Iranians.”
Abbas insisted that he had met all his obligations under the Oslo agreement, which he had signed on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization with Israel in 1993.
“I challenge anyone who says we did not implement all our obligations,” he said. “We met all our obligations, but Israel did not implement even one of its obligations.”
He criticized U.S. and Israeli statements declaring that by going to the Security Council to complain against Israel’s settlements or to demand recognition of the June 4, 1967 lines as the borders of the future Palestinian state, he was undertaking a unilateral action.
“I said we will go to the Security Council and they started saying that it was a unilateral action even before I went,” he said. “But Israel is taking daily unilateral actions in its construction of the separation wall and settlements, but this is not called unilateral.”
“There is still injustice in this world but we have to raise our voice,” he said in a somber tone.
Abbas praised Arafat, describing him as “maker of the peace of the braves,” as Arafat used to call the peace process.
“But they did not understand him and persisted in rejecting peace and continued to fight him,” he said talking about the time Israel held Arafat under siege in his Ramallah headquarters following the outbreak of the armed uprising in the West Bank in September 2000 until his death in 2004.
Arafat shared a Noble Peace Prize in 1994 with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated in November 1995 by an Israeli Jew opposed to his work for peace, and current Israeli President Shimon Peres. The three were honored for their role in bringing about the Oslo agreement in 1993.
-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank
Photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas marks the sixth anniversary of the death of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on November 11, 2010 in Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: Omar Rashidi/PPO via Getty Images