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Netanyahu: Palestinian incitement, not settlements behind violence

Netanyahu's speech comes after his Interior Minister said he wants to 'vomit the bloodthirsty murderers from among us'
A Palestinian holds a national flag during clashes with Israeli security forces on 13 October 2015 near the Jewish settlement of Beit El (AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at the international community for justifying Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ alleged incitements to murder Jews. He also said that he wanted to return to the negotiating table “without preconditions” and would do so straight away if Abbas was not blocking such moves.

"This wave of attacks is not the result of the lack of political horizon,” Netanyahu told foreign media during a press conference in Jerusalem on Thursday.

“This is not the result of a massive wave of settlements as there has not been a massive wave of settlements.”

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] is inciting murder – make him accountable and stop trying to justify this away with settlements,” Netanyahu added.

From 2009 when Netanyahu became Prime Minister to the beginning of 2014, the Jewish settler population in the West Bank grew 23 percent. There are now more than around 550,000 Israeli Jews living in the occupied territories, with further settler homes being approved this year. 

Despite this, Netanyahu said that he would be willing to return to the negotiating table and welcomed foreign involvement in peace talks.

"I am open to a meeting with Abbas and Arab leaders. I think it is potentially useful because it might stop the wave of incitement," Netanyahu said.

In response to a question by the BBC, asking if he would return to peace talks, the Israeli leader was aghast.

"Are we living on the same planet?" he exclaimed. "I have called on Abbas time and time again to renew peace talks without preconditions. I am willing to meet him, he is not willing to meet me and you ask me if I'm ready to renew negotiations - ask him."

After months of stalemate, the last round of talks collapsed in 2014 when Israel failed to live up to promises to release Palestinian prisoners and continued settlement construction. Abbas has since said that he would not resume talks unless Israel freezes settlement construction, something it has proved loath to do.

Netanyahu went on to stress that the latest flare-up in violence has been caused by what he called incitement and lies over the Al-Aqsa mosque, which he says have been propagated by Palestinian politicians who claim that Netanyahu is trying to change the status quo at the site which is holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Netanyahu also attacked Abbas over his comments made on Wednesday in which the Palestinian leader said that Israel had “executed in cold blood" 13-year-old Ahmed Manasira who is suspected of stabbing a 13-year-old and a 20-year-old settler in East Jerusalem on Monday. Manasira was shot by Israeli security services at the scene, with images of him bleeding on the ground soon going viral, but he survived and is now being treated for what Netanyahu said were relatively light injures.

US Secretary of State John Kerry echoed Netanyahu's remarks later on Thursday.

"There's no excuse for the violence," Kerry told NPR News, which released extracts of a radio interview due to air on Friday as the US diplomatic chief flies to Europe.

"No amount of frustration is appropriate to license any violence anywhere at any time. No violence should occur. And the Palestinians need to understand," he argued.

"President Abbas has been committed to non-violence. He needs to be condemning this, loudly and clearly," he said. 

"And he needs to not engage in some of the incitement that his voice has sometimes been heard to encourage. So that has to stop."

On Wednesday, in his first speech since the violence escalated last week, Abbas said that: “The aggression against our people and holy areas has increased in a manner that disrupts the peace and quiet and requires international intervention. Only we have rights to Al-Aqsa as Palestinians and Muslims, and no one else has any rights there.”

Palestinians say that ongoing restrictions on worship for Muslims as well as the increase in Jewish visitors to the site indicate that Israel would like to see the holy site divided much in the same way as the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, which is divided between Muslims and Jews depending on the day and time. Netanyahu in his speech denied these allegations and said that his government was protecting the status quo.

US State Department spokesperson John Kirby on Wednesday said that Kerry wanted to see the status quo restored.

“Well, certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence,” Kirby said in answer to a reporter.

However, on Thursday he was forced to backtrack on the comments, issuing a clarification on Twitter.

In a separate speech in the US Kerry on Thursday said that the US "will continue to support Israel's right to protect itself".

Kerry is now expected to visit the region in an attempt to de-escalate the situation.

"There is a need to stop inflammatory rhetoric and provocations. I will travel to the region in the coming days and will try to stabilise the situation," he said.

Violence mounts 

Recent weeks have seen a flare-up in violence, with regular stabbing attacks carried out by a number of Palestinians and at least two Israelis, happening in occupied East Jerusalem and Israel. Large-scale Palestinian protests have also been happening in parts of the West Bank, northern Israel and Gaza. While Thursday was one of the calmest days seen so far, further demonstrations are expected to take place tomorrow following Friday prayers, with Israel deploying extra army units to the Gaza border ahead of an expected "day of rage" called for by Hamas. 

The Israeli security forces have regularly fired tear gas and shot live and rubber bullets into crowds of peaceful demonstrators and young stone-throwing protesters who have largely come out to denounce the occupation and the restrictions on Al-Aqsa. Nine Palestinian protesters have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers at the Gaza border in recent days. 

Authorities have come under pressure for allegedly using disproportionate force against protesters, as well as against alleged attackers, many of whom have been killed at the scene.  

Israel has denied using disproportionate force and Netanyahu in his speech claimed that any European country or the US would react in exactly the same manner if its citizens had come under threat.  

His government has also insisted that house demolitions should be carried out against any alleged attackers and their families in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in contravention of international standards. Two demolitions took place overnight with more expected to happen soon.

There have also been growing calls to strip any alleged attackers of their East Jerusalem residency status. On Wednesday, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom said, "We must vomit the bloodthirsty murderers from among us," in reference to East Jerusalem residents accused of carrying out attacks. On Thursday, he went further and submitted for consultation requests to strip Palestinian citizens of Israel who have been accused of attacks of their citizenship. 

If the measures are approved, Israa Abed, a 29-year-old woman from Nazareth who was shot by police last week for allegedly attempting to carry out an attack, could risk losing her Israeli citizenship. Her family denies that she has any political affiliation and on Thursday said they would challenge accusations against her in court. Abed remains in hospital. 

The Adalah human rights group - which fights for the rights of Palestinian Citizens of Israel - has responded by saying it will campaign to have Shalom's request rejected.

Meanwhile, many East Jerusalem neighbourhoods are now on lock-down, with extra police and army units deployed throughout the city and checkpoints set up and expanded in many areas. 

Palestinians complain that they can no longer move around freely, with young men being subjected to frequent searches. 

Israel's largest bus company Egged said on Tuesday that it had seen a drastic fall in passengers in recent days with commuter numbers down by 30 percent. It said that Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in East Jerusalem were the hardest hit. 

Since the start of the month, seven Israelis and 27 Palestinians, including many protesters and a number of alleged attackers, have been killed.

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