Abbas denounces US Jerusalem plan – addressing al-Azhar International Conference

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PALESTINIAN President Mahmoud Abbas says the holy city of Jerusalem al-Quds can be the gate to either peace or war, and that it is up to the United States to decide which path to choose.

Addressing al-Azhar International Conference on Jerusalem al-Quds in Cairo on Wednesday, Abbas denounced as ‘sinful’ President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognise the city as Israel’s ‘capital’.

Washington, he noted, disqualified itself as a broker in the long-stalled negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at resolving the decades-long conflict. In December 2017, Trump said Washington was recognising Jerusalem al-Quds as the ‘capital’ of Israel and planning to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

The announcement drew widespread condemnation and led to mass protests against the US and Israel. Abbas said the US has defied international law and resolutions to declare the city, which itself was regarded as occupied territory, as the ‘capital’ of Israel.

He also stressed that Palestinians would file a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court and ‘continue to peacefully pursue our demands until we win back our rights’. Since 1977, the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council have approved 750 and 86 resolutions, respectively, over Palestine, none of which has been fully enforced, Abbas pointed out.

The United Nations General Assembly rejected Trump’s Jerusalem al-Quds move in a vote on December 21, 2017. Israel lays claim to the whole Jerusalem al-Quds, but the international community views the ancient city’s eastern sector as occupied land and Palestinians consider it as the capital of their future state.

• Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has said that US President Donald Trump’s so-called Middle East peace efforts are the ‘slap of the century’ after his recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s capital.

‘The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it,’ said Abbas referring to Trump’s vow to reach the ‘ultimate deal’. Speaking at a Sunday meeting of Palestinian officials held over how to deal with Trump’s al-Quds move, Abbas added that the Tel Aviv regime had ‘ended’ the 1990s Oslo peace accords of the 1990s with its actions.

‘We said “no” to Trump, “we will not accept your project”,’ he added. The Oslo Accords were signed between the Israeli regime and the PLO during the early-mid 1990s to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to guarantee the Palestinians’ right of self determination.

The PA, which has limited governance over the occupied West Bank, was established following the Oslo Accords. Last month, Trump announced that Washington would recognise Jerusalem al-Quds as the capital of Israel and would relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the occupied city.

Abbas also branded the US ambassadors to the UN and to Israel, Nikki Haley and David Friedman, a ‘disgrace’. ‘US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is a settler who is opposed to the term occupation. He is an offensive human being, and I will not agree to meet with him anywhere. They requested that I meet him and I refused, not in Jerusalem, not in Amman, not in Washington. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley too, she threatens to hit people who hurt Israel with the heel of her shoe, and we’ll respond in the same way,’ he said.

He also stressed that Palestinians will continue with their demand that Britain apologise over the Balfour Declaration which led to the formation of the Israeli regime. ‘We continue to demand an apology from the British for the Balfour Declaration, and we will continue to demand their recognition of a Palestinian state,’ said Abbas.

• The US decision to withhold about half of the initial aid due for the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) hit the front page headlines in the Palestinian dailies on Wednesday. The dailies reported the US has decided to provide only $60 million to the UNRWA while withholding a further $65 million it usually makes in the beginning of the year.

Al-Quds added in this regard that the UNRWA has laid off over 100 employees in Jordan, while al-Quds and al-Hayat al-Jadida reported spokesman for UNRWA Sami Mushasha affirming that the UN agency would continue to provide services to Palestinian refugees despite austerity measures.

The funeral procession of a Palestinian who succumbed to his wounds after being critically injured by Israeli forces in the northern West Bank district of Qalqiliya also dominated the front page headlines in the dailies. The dailies reported that Palestinians attended the funeral procession of Ahmad Salim, 24, in the Qalqiliya-district town of Jayyous.

The dailies also reported that Israeli police prevented Islamic Waqf workers from conducting maintenance works at East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Al-Quds added that Israeli occupation authorities have resumed excavations in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan in preparation for the construction of a sky bridge that would connect al-Thuri neighbourhood with Magharbe Gate leading to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

According to the dailies, President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to attend Al-Azhar International Conference in support of Jerusalem. Responding to the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) Central Council’s decision to suspend recognition of Israel, al-Quds said that five European countries have called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) neither to ‘bury’ the Oslo Accords nor to withdraw the recognition of Israel.

The dailies reported that Israeli military has decided to seize Palestinian lands in Ush Gurab area to the east of the Bethlehem-district town of Beit Sahour for the construction of a new settlement. Also regarding settlement plans, al-Ayyam reported that the Israeli occupation authorities plan to merge four Israeli Jewish settlements into a large settlement bloc in the northern Jordan Valley.

According to al-Ayyam, Israeli police delivered demolition orders for a number of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem neighbourhood of al-Issawiya. Al-Hayat al-Jadida said that Israeli forces conducted multiple overnight raids across the West Bank, detaining 18 Palestinians.

Al-Quds and al-Hayat al-Jadida spotlighted the weekly session of the Palestinian cabinet on their front page. They said the cabinet expressed support for the positions that Abbas announced in his speech before the PLO’s Central Council as well as for the council’s decisions.

The cabinet was reported in al-Quds stating that Hamas has continued to refuse to enable the national consensus government to carry out its tasks in Gaza. Al-Ayyam accused Hamas of continuing to hold revenues collected from Gaza. Hamas was reported in al-Ayyam as stating that the real test was whether the Central Council’s decision would be implemented.