Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Nick Clegg
(First printed in The Church of England Newspaper).
The President of the Palestinian Authority has met with leaders of the Christian Churches of Britain in London following his talks with the British government over the stalled Middle East peace process.
The meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Dr. Rowan Williams comes at a nadir in Anglo-Israeli relations and on the same day the Israeli Foreign Ministry chided Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as being grossly “ill informed” about the conflict in the Middle East.
According to a statement released after the 17 Jan 2012, President Abbas told the church leaders that Israel and the Palestinians must resume peace talks. The Arab Spring provided a “rare opportunity” to bring peace to the region, the Palestinian leader said.
President Abbas and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams were joined by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland David Arnott in the private meeting at Lambeth Palace.
Dr. Williams said the British church leaders “continue to share the hopes of the Palestinian leadership for a lasting and just peace in the Holy Land, and we pray for the courage on all sides to break the current deadlock.”
He noted that “young people in Israel and in the Palestinian territories long for justice and stability and they must not be let down. We were deeply grateful to President Abbas for taking time to share with us his concerns and aspirations” Dr. Williams said.
Archbishop Kelly, who last week travelled with other Catholic bishops to Israel and Palestine to meet with Christian leaders, said “we witnessed the effects of occupation and insecurity on the people of this land. There is an urgent need for strong and creative leadership in order to address the core issues of this long conflict.”
On 17 Jan, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the Israel Hayom newspaper that Mr. Clegg’s accusation that Israel was carrying out “deliberate vandalism” by building settlements in disputed territories was “gratuitous and ill informed.”
The Deputy Prime Minister’s comments served to harm the peace process as it would allow the Palestinians to continue to refuse to negotiate or compromise.
At a London press conference on 16 Jan, Mr. Clegg standing alongside Mr. Abbas said: “The continued existence of illegal settlements risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable.”
“That, in turn, will do nothing to safeguard the security of Israel itself or of Israeli citizens. That is why I condemn the continued illegal settlement activity in the strongest possible terms,” he added.
Speaking through a translator, President Abbas told reporters, “This is exactly what we wanted to hear officially from the government of the United Kingdom.”
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians had no interest in resuming peace talks. “For the last three years, the Palestinians have refused to enter negotiations, thinking they could impose preconditions upon us,” the Israeli press reported Mr. Netanyahu telling Israeli lawmakers at closed parliamentary committee meeting.
“The Palestinians have no interest in entering peace talks. I’m ready to travel now to Ramallah to start peace talks with Abu Mazen [Abbas], without preconditions. But the simple truth is that Abu Mazen is not ready.”