The Arab nations should have accepted the U.N. partition plan in 1947, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday, about one month after he went to the U.N. to seek unilateral recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
In an interview with Israel's Channel 2, Abbas conceded that "it was our mistake" for not agreeing to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the establishment of a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in the British Mandate for Palestine. According to Abbas, Arabs as a whole are at fault for rejecting the plan and should have acted like the Jews and established a state. "But should they [the Israelis] punish us for this mistake for 64 years?" he said, speaking in English.
The Palestinian and Arab refusal to accept the U.N. plan in November 1947 was followed by the departure of British forces in May 1948. Israel declared independence soon after, triggering a mass invasion by its Arab neighbors. In the ensuing war, Israel managed hold on to land earmarked for the Jewish state while Jordan and Egypt, respectively, eventually took over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which had been designated for a Palestinian state. Israel eventually captured these areas as well in the 1967 Six Day War.
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After the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel began a gradual process of handing over control of some of these areas to the Palestinians. Despite repeated negotiations, however, they have yet to come to a permanent peace agreement.
When Abbas submitted an official request for full U.N. membership in September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused him of abandoning peace talks in favor of unilateral action. But Abbas believes the Palestinians statehood bid - which is still pending at the U.N. - can be pursued at the same time as the peace process. "There is no contradiction between negotiations and the Security Council," Abbas has said.
While conceding that the U.S. would likely use its veto power when it comes to a vote at the U.N. Security Council, Abbas stressed that even a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution that favors statehood and upgrades the Palestinian mission at the U.N. to that of an non-member observer state could pave the way to statehood, just like the Partition Plan of 1947 did.
"Where did he [Netanyahu] get his recognition? From the United Nations General Assembly," Abbas said, adding that Israel's settlement construction should also be considered unilateral action that undermines the peace process.
When asked if a peace agreement with Israel would mean an end to the conflict, Abbas said Palestinians want to live in peace with Israel, rejecting the notion that Palestinians would launch another terrorist campaign against Israel. "After the core issues are resolved and our 8,000 prisoners in Israel are released, we can have an agreement to end the conflict," he said.
When asked if he would be willing to speak before the Knesset, Abbas said he would if invited.
Abbas also contended that he and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were "very, very close" to reaching a peace agreement in 2008, before the Israeli leader resigned under a cloud of corruption allegations.
"It was a very good opportunity," he said. "If he [Olmert] had stayed two, three more months, I believe that time we could have concluded an agreement."
Abbas confirmed Olmert's account that the Israeli leader was prepared to withdraw from 93.5 percent of the West Bank. The Palestinians, Abbas added, responded by offering to let Israel retain 1.9% of the West Bank.
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