Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority responded to a question regarding the Jewish Holocaust today by calling it “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.”
While the statement appears to be a significant symbol for the furthering of Israeli-Palestinian relations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a public relations attempt to recover from Abbas’ recent decision to reengage with Hamas, an organization Israel and much of the West considers a terrorist group.
Abbas asked that the Israeli government work with his government to secure peace based on a two-state solution, possibly referring to failed talks between the parties. But Netanyahu said Israel won’t talk with a government that associates with Hamas.
“President Abbas can’t have it both ways, he can’t say the Holocaust was terrible but at the same time embrace those [Hamas] who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said during an appearance on CNN. “I think what he's trying to do is to placate Western public opinion that understands that he delivered a terrible blow to the peace process by embracing these Hamas terrorists, and I think he is trying to wiggle his way out of it.”
Abbas made his remarks in response to a question by Rabbi Marc Schneier, a high-profile New York–based rabbi who is founder and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Schneier’s organization seeks to promote and build relationships between ethnic and religious groups, namely between Muslims and Jews.
Abbas’ remarks come as Israel prepared for its somber annual Holocaust memorial that commences at sundown Sunday night. Most businesses shut down and state ceremonies are held.
The Israeli government has previously called Abbas “the most anti-Semitic leader in the world,” mostly over a 1983 book Abbas penned that questioned the number of victims of the Holocaust.
Netanyahu called on Abbas to cut ties with Hamas and resume peace talks, which Israel immediately suspended when the reconciled Hamas-Fatah unity government was announced last week. He said Israel would consider talks if Hamas renounced its violent actions and tactics, but would not otherwise.
“You want to make peace with an enemy, but only with an enemy that’s decided to make peace,” remarked Netanyahu, “an enemy that seeks your destruction – what are we going to talk about? The method of our self-annihilation? I mean, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Palestinian lawmakers however say the unity deal will allow the Palestinian government to better represent all Palestinians, hold democratic elections and have accountability in government. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian lawmaker, told CNN that the “possibility for peace will be greater” with a unified Palestinian government.
“I personally believe that the only peace that will last will be between two democracies and what we are trying to do today here is to build a democracy.”
Abbas’ statement was published by Wafa, the news agency of the Palestinian National Authority (PLO), which recently changed its name to the State Of Palestine. It is recognized internationally as the official governing body of the Palestinian territories. Abbas added:
“The world must do its utmost to fight racism and injustice in order to bring justice and equality to oppressed people wherever they are. The Palestinian people, who suffer from injustice, oppression and denied freedom and peace, are the first to demand to lift the injustice and racism that befell other peoples subjected to such crimes.
'On the incredibly sad commemoration of Holocaust Day, we call on the Israeli government to seize the current opportunity to conclude a just and comprehensive peace in the region, based on the two states vision, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.”