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Jewish Leaders Press Abbas on Direct Talks

Jewish leaders pressed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the issues of incitement and direct talks.

Abbas met for dinner Wednesday evening with an array of national Jewish leaders under the auspices of the Center for Middle East Peace. Abbas had met earlier with President Obama at the White House.

The major topic of the evening was Abbas’ reluctance to advance from proximity talks, brokered by the United States, to direct talks with Israel. Both the Obama and Netanyahu administrations favor direct talks.

Palestinian leaders had said previously that the obstacle was Israel’s refusal to advance from a partial to a total settlement freeze, but Abbas backed away from that reasoning. Instead he stuck to a “legalistic” argument, in the word of several of those present: Abbas wanted direct talks, but only after proximity talks had achieved progress on the “core issues” of borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

Abbas was more combative on the issue of incitement. He contradicted his earlier claim, made in his news conference with Obama, that his government was not responsible for incitement, acknowledging some incitement in official Palestinian media, according to meeting participants. However, he expressed frustration that Israel did not recognize his efforts to end incitement in the mosques, saying he was the only Arab leader to centralize Friday sermons and to remove imams who incited against Israel.

He also repeated his call for a trilateral commission, comprising Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States, that would examine and penalize incitement on both sides of the conflict, and expressed frustration that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had rejected the idea.

Jewish leaders also pressed Abbas on reaching out to Israelis to reassure them of Palestinian intentions.

On that score, Abbas said he recognized the ancient Jewish claims to Israel and recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, adding that the Palestinians had an equal claim to eastern Jerusalem as their capital. Abbas said he had appeared on Israeli television for a 30-minute interview and had pressed Netanyahu to do the same on Palestinian TV, but Netanyahu declined.

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