JERUSALEM (Christian Examiner) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday his government is ready to sit down with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to seek peace, provided that the first subject addressed is the incitement of Palestinians to murder Israelis.
Netanyahu's comments come as PA President Mahmoud Abbas claimed in a television interview that he was still willing to sit down with "the partner" (Netanyahu) to discuss peace with Israel – if Israel agrees to stop policing certain areas and withdraw from areas he regards as Palestinian territory.
"I still extend a hand to Mr. Netanyahu because I believe in peace. I believe that the people of Israel want peace and that the Palestinian people want peace," Abbas said.
Prior to a meeting with Czech Republic Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaorálek, Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem he is still concerned about peace and has a desire to advance it.
"A few days ago, on Israeli television, I heard President Abbas say that if I invite him to meet, he'll come. So as I said this morning to an American Congressional delegation, I'm inviting him again. I've cleared my schedule this week. Any day he can come, I'll be here," Netanyahu said.
The open-door invitation, however, is not without preconditions. Netanyahu said the first thing that has to be discussed is "ending the Palestinian campaign of incitement to murder Israelis"
Israeli authorities insist that Abbas could have, by his public opposition to terrorism, been instrumental in slowing or ending the attacks carried out by Palestinians on Israelis since September. Twenty-nine Israelis and four non-Israelis have been killed in knife attacks or with cars driven by Palestinian attackers.
One of those killed was an American combat veteran and student at Vanderbilt University.
Nearly 200 Palestinians have died since September.
Abbas denied in the television interview that he had incited any violence in Israel and claimed that his security forces had actually acted to restrain the Palestinian populace. In fact, he said, his efforts may have actually lessened the impact of violence on Israel. He claimed the Israelis were simply not aware of all he had done.
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Abbas is feeling pressure both externally and internally. He said during the television interview that if the current situation continues, the PA may collapse. That would leave a vacuum for much more radical elements – such as the Islamic State – to seize control. ISIS has already made inroads among the Hamas held territory in Gaza.
If, however, Netanyahu will halt Israeli Defense Force (IDF) activities in the West Bank, peace can still be had, Abbas said.
"Try me for a week — if I don't meet my responsibilities, then come back," Abbas said in the interview.
Netanyhau's comments come at nearly the same time as those of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who said Monday he was willing to meet with Abbas to "find a way to build trust between us."
"I am ready to meet with him with whatever coordination with the Israeli government, of course," Rivilin said.
"He said he believed that it was necessary to stop all types of terror and find a way back to negotiations. But as long as Abu Mazen [Abbas] believes in fundamentalism and doesn't abandon the aim to destroy Israel or the Hamas ideology that there is no way to accept Israel, or that only a ceasefire is possible with Israel, then we will get nowhere."