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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Mahmoud Abbas apologises for speech that stirred international criticism

The Palestinian president appeared to discredit the Holocaust

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. Reuters / Mohamad Torokman / File Photo
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. Reuters / Mohamad Torokman / File Photo

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday apologised for his speech this week that drew condemnation from Britain, France and the United States for apparently blaming European Jews for bringing the Holocaust on themselves.

Delivering a speech in front of the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the West Bank, the 82-year-old leader of the Palestinian Authority prompted international criticism with his remarks. He has now moved to quieten that censure, condemning the Holocaust.

“If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC (Palestine National Council), especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them. I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths”, he was quoted as saying by Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“I would also like to reiterate our long held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims”, he continued.

“Likewise, we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two-state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security”.

Mr Abbas was announced as the unchallenged leader of the PLO early Friday. It cemented his authority after more than a decade in power without fresh elections in that time.

Israeli and US officials rushed to condemn his comments in the speech on Monday. Israel has long accused the Palestinian leadership of anti-Semitism, saying one thing to its Palestinian audience and another to the international community.

But the Palestinians say they are willing to live side-by-side with Israel if they are given equal rights, hundreds of thousands of settlers are removed from Palestinian land and if they have the opportunity to build a sovereign state founded on the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Mr Abbas and Palestinian officials have refused to cooperate with the administration of US President Donald Trump, who they perceive to be the most pro-Israeli American leader since its creation in 1948. They say any peace talks with Israel would have to be brokered by impartial parties, something they do not believe the current leadership in Washington to be.

Mr Trump ordered the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which will take place on May 15, on the anniversary of what the Palestinians call Nakba Day, the commemoration of their "day of catasrophe".

The US leader has a much talked about peace plan in the works that he is rumoured to be unveiling after the embassy relocation. The Israeli press reported on Friday that Mr Trump had told Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on a recent Washington visit that Israel will have to withdraw from four east Jerusalem neighbourhoods. The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state.

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