Sep 29, 2014 10:54 AM

Israel says Palestinian leader doesn't want peace

The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) Israel's foreign minister said Monday it's clear that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of making peace with Israel, calling his speech to world leaders last week "a message of hatred and incitement."

Avigdor Lieberman also questioned Abbas' legitimacy to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people, saying he doesn't control the Gaza Strip, where Hamas remains in charge of security and elections have been postponed for more than four years.

Lieberman spoke to reporters ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the annual ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Netanyahu said before leaving for New York that he will refute "all of the lies directed at us" about Israel's recently concluded war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas accused Israel in his speech on Friday of carrying out "war crimes" and conducting a "war of genocide" in Gaza, but stopped short of saying he would pursue war crimes charges against Israel. He said he would ask the U.N. Security Council to dictate the ground rules for any talks with Israel, including setting a deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands.

With memories of the Nazi Holocaust still fresh in Israel, use of the word "genocide" is regarded as particularly provocative both to Netanyahu and Israelis in general. An angry Netanyahu promised an appropriate response in his U.N. speech.

Lieberman said Abbas has "lost his way."

"Because he failed with all his domestic issues, he tries to resolve his domestic problems with some escalation in his rhetoric here in U.N., on the international arena," Lieberman said. "But it's clear he has no support."

Mohammed Ishtayeh, an aide to Abbas, responded to Lieberman's comments, saying: "If Lieberman and his government seek peace, why they are building settlements on our land? They left no land without settlements, no land for the Palestinians to live in."

Ishtayeh added: "Lieberman was trying to cover the war crimes his government committed in Gaza, but we have prepared the indictment list to take Israel to the ICC," using the acronym for the International Criminal Court. "We are going to build an international coalition against the Israeli occupation and its crimes, particularly building settlements on our land."

During the 50-day Gaza war, which ended Aug. 26, Israel launched thousands of airstrikes against what it said were Hamas-linked targets in the densely populated coastal territory, while Gaza militants fired several thousand rockets at Israel. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, the vast majority civilians, and some 18,000 homes were destroyed, according to U.N. figures. Sixty-six soldiers and six civilians were killed on the Israeli side.

The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world's largest bloc of Islamic countries, has been lobbying Abbas to seek membership in international agencies, including the ICC. That would open the door to war crimes charges against Israel for its military actions in Gaza and Jewish settlement construction on West Bank land the Palestinians want for a future state.

However, Abbas' speech last week made no mention of a bid to join the International Criminal Court or a deadline for ending the occupation.

Lieberman said Israel is ready for a "comprehensive, reasonable solution" and has tried for many years to achieve a "strategic breakthrough" in its relations with the Palestinians, but "I'm sorry to say that we don't have a reliable partner from the Palestinian side, and it's a problem." He pointed to the more than 18,000 missiles and shells launched at Israel from Gaza since it withdrew from the territory.

Lieberman also said Israel is watching talks between Iran and six major powers closely, saying a deal like the one with North Korea that led to Pyongyang producing nuclear bombs is "completely unacceptable" to Israel.

"If Iranians will achieve nuclear capabilities, the immediate results, the consequences will be a crazy nuclear arms race in all Middle East," Lieberman warned. "We are monitoring, we are following, and of course we keep all options on the table."

The West suspects Iran's nuclear program is geared toward building a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation and medical research. Israel is especially concerned as Iran's previous president called for the destruction of Israel.


Associated Press Writer Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed to this report from the United Nations.


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