Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended an unprecedented invitation Thursday to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urging him to address Israel’s parliament (Knesset).
Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu offered in turn to appear before the Palestinian legislature.
The Palestinians quickly rejected the invitation as a “new gimmick” designed to mask what they described as Israel’s intransigence on moving forward with the Mideast peace process.
Netanyahu addressed the world body moments after Abbas delivered his own speech. Both presented sharply different views of the path toward reviving peace talks that have been stalled for more than two years.
“I am ready to negotiate all final status, but one thing I will never negotiate is the right to a one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu rejects a settlement freeze, rejects the 1967 borders as the basis for talks and rejects any division of Jerusalem. He has also said he would not uproot settlements.
Slamming Israel’s “abhorrent” settlement policy, Abbas demanded the United Nations take a bigger role in the effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation approaches in June, Abbas urged the 193-member General Assembly to declare 2017 “the international year to end the Israeli occupation of our land and our people.”
He called on the Security Council to take up a resolution on the settlements, adding, in a clear reference to the United States, “we hope no one will cast a veto.”
Netanyahu rejected the idea of greater U.N. involvement in the peace process.
“We will not accept any attempt by the U.N. to dictate terms to Israel. The road to peace runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not through New York,” he said.
Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s longstanding complaints that the U.N. system is biased against Israel, declaring “the U.N., begun as a moral force, has become a moral farce.”
But he also insisted Israel’s relations with much of the world were rapidly improving, even in the Arab world, where he said many countries are increasingly seeing Israel as an ally against the Islamic State group and Iran.
Abbas denounced Israel’s reluctance to involve the international community in the Mideast peace process. He accused Israel of “continuing to evade” an international conference that France wants to hold before the end of the year to work out a framework for negotiating peace.
He insisted “our hand remains outstretched for making peace” but said Israel refuses to “abandon the mentality of hegemony, expansionism and colonization.”
The Palestinians have rebuffed Netanyahu’s past offers for meetings, although Russia said this month that Abbas and Netanyahu have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow for talks aimed at relaunching a peace process.
Palestinian Ambassador to the U.N. Riyad Mansour dismissed Netanyahu’s suggestion that Abbas address the Knesset as a “new gimmick.”
“Will he attend the International Conference proposed by France and supported by many to be held by the end of the year?” Mansour said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. “You can measure Netanyahu’s interest in achieving peace through the number of illegal settlements he builds and Palestinian homes he destroys. He has chosen occupation over peace.”
In his speech, Abbas also accused Israel of perpetrating extrajudicial killings against Palestinians, an allegation Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon vehemently rejected. He said Abbas’ ”dangerous words” were “a ticking time-bomb” that would lead to more attacks against Israel.
“The Palestinian youth listening to his speech today, will be the terrorists of tomorrow,” Danon said.
The General Assembly also heard from Iranian President Hassan Rohuani, who blamed the world’s “major powers” for the spread of violent extremism and terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. He said world powers have fostered more insecurity through “repression and military intervention under the pretext of creating a secure environment for their citizens.”
By Alina Heineke | AP
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer, George Jahn and Michael Astor contributed to this story.