New York, NY—The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a dinner and discussion on Monday, September 23, 2013, with over 50 top leaders of the American Jewish community and former American administration officials. The dinner, hosted by Center founder and chairman Dan Abraham and Center president Congressman Robert Wexler at the Plaza Hotel, was organized at the request of Abbas.
Abraham, Wexler and Abbas opened the discussion with brief introductory remarks. Abbas then answered questions from the assembled guests. The event lasted one hour and a half.
Guests included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, and former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer; Professor Alan Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University; Wolf Blitzer, host of CNN’s The Situation Room; Congresswoman Nita Lowey; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center; Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women; Peter Joseph, president of the Israel Policy Forum; Daniel Lubetsky, founder of OneVoice; Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Foundation; Professor Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize recipient; Abby Joseph Cohen, board member of the Jewish Theological Seminary and other American Jewish community leaders and foreign policy scholars.
In response to a question posed by Albright about the two deadly weekend attacks against Israeli troops by Palestinians, Abbas said: “What took place there is condemned by the Palestinian Authority.” He continued: “I hope that when something happens against the Palestinians it will also be condemned. Two weeks ago, four young people were killed by the Israeli army near Jerusalem. No one said anything.” He explained that he faced pressure to leave the negotiating table but stated: “We will not interrupt our talks with the Israelis.” He then added: “We condemn by all means all kinds of actions, against civilians, against anyone.”
On the topic of his upcoming speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas said: “It will be addressed to the Palestinian people and the Israeli people at the same time. When we talk we have one language. When we talk to the Israelis or Palestinians we say we want peace with Israel.”
Respecting the agreement that only Secretary of State John Kerry will announce developments in the ongoing diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians, Abbas did not discuss specifics of the negotiations. He said, “We will address all permanent status issues – Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, security and prisoners. The time period of six-to-nine months was intended to achieve a comprehensive agreement, including end of claims and end of conflict.
He explained the agreement he reached with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “In exchange for Israel’s commitment to release 104 prisoners pre-1993, I commit not to make accession to any of the United Nations agencies and conventions during the six-to-nine month period. We will shoulder all commitments emanating from agreements signed – the Roadmap and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
Abbas commented: “We want to achieve peace within this period and we can do it with Mr. Netanyahu. It is not impossible.”
He also stated that the “United States will be a full partner in these negotiations.” He later added: “We are working very hard with the American administration. They are very serious and sincere in achieving peace.” He also praised American support on both economic and security issues.
Speaking to the domestic situation in the West Bank and Gaza, Abbas said that after the Second Intifada, “We worked very, very hard to change the atmosphere, to change the culture of the people.” He said: “We don’t want anymore Intifada.” He acknowledged that the Palestinian people have the right to “go peacefully to the streets to ask for something, but not with weapons.” He assessed that: “Maybe 80% of the people in the West Bank and Gaza are for peace now.”
“Concerning reconciliation between the West Bank and Gaza,” Abbas said, “We will do it when Hamas accepts to go to elections – presidential and legislative. Reconciliation will not be a burden on negotiations. There is no contradiction at all between reconciliation and negotiations. Meanwhile we will continue with our institution building for the state of Palestine. I reiterate to you that the state of Palestine will be an example of democracy, human rights, women’s rights, accountability, transparency and the rule of law.”
Abbas expressed his preference for a two-state solution over a one-state solution. “I don’t want to be an Israeli citizen, I want to be a Palestinian citizen, in my state. But I want to live with the Israelis on the other side. I am looking for a two-state solution.”
On Syria, Abbas called the situation “very critical and very serious.” He described the Palestinian position as “neutral.” “The only solution for Syria is Geneva II,” Abbas said, “It is the only way to save Syria. Otherwise Syria will be divided into four or five states. The civil war will take place in Syria for decades. Either they go to Geneva II or the alternative is splits and separation.”
Speaking directly to the group, Abbas said: “We need your support to ensure the successful conclusion of the peace negotiations so that the state of Palestine can live side by side with the state of Israel in peace and security on the 67 borders. I urge the Israeli government to focus on building peace and not building settlements. It’s time to achieve peace in the Holy Land. It’s time for Jews, Christians and Muslims to show the similarities of the greatness of these three faiths. It is time to replace hatred, conflict, bloodshed and incitement with cooperation, building together and realizing the potential of Israelis and Palestinians in times of peace.”
“In trying to achieve an historical agreement with Israel that will end the conflict and end all claims I am not doing Israel a favor, I am doing it as a cardinal interest for my people. I hope and pray that Israeli leaders will act in the same way.”
In one of his final comments, Abbas said that six of his eight grandchildren have attended Seeds of Peace, a summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian children. He described one of his grandchildren telling him, “I will go again and again and again.” “They built good relations with the Israelis,” Abbas said of his grandchildren’s experience, “Until now they have these relations.”
Abbas remarked that there has been progress over the years. He reflected: “How can we change the culture? …if you ask me this question during the intifada I didn’t have an answer. Hatred, guns, killing, it destroyed everything. Now I can say we have something to talk about. When we talk about living side-by-side many people listen. I send my grandchildren, till now, every year they go there to talk and build good relations.”
“I still have hope,” Abbas said. “If I didn’t have hope, you wouldn’t see me here.”
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