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Palestinian president calls Trump peace offer 'slap of the century'

Abbas denounces US president's Middle East policies and recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, centre, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday (AFP)

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denounced US President Donald Trump's peace efforts as the "slap of the century" at a key meeting on Sunday on the White House's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

In a wide-ranging two-hour speech, Abbas reiterated he would not accept the Trump administration as a mediator in peace talks with Israel and called for an internationally led process.

He also accused Israel through its actions of ending the 1994 Oslo peace accords that form the basis of its Palestinian relations, saying the Palestinians would study all strategies for responding to it.

Beyond that, Abbas attacked the US ambassadors to Israel and the United Nations, David Friedman and Nikki Haley, calling them a "disgrace".

Both Trump appointees have been strong supporters of Israel, with Friedman having backed Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

"US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is a settler who is opposed to the term occupation. He is an offensive human being, and I will not agree to meet with him anywhere," Abbas said.

"We said 'no' to Trump, 'we will not accept your project'," Abbas said at the start of a key meeting of Palestinian leaders on how to face Trump's declaration.

"The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it," he added, referring to Trump's pledge to reach the "ultimate deal" - Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Abbas made his comments at the opening ceremony of the meeting taking place in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday and Monday in a marathon speech that lasted about two hours.

The meeting was called in the wake of Trump's 6 December declaration on Jerusalem that deeply angered the Palestinians.

Abbas had previously said the US could no longer play any role in the Middle East peace process after Trump's move.

'We will not accept American leadership'

On Sunday, he said the Palestinians were calling for an internationally led process in which the US was not the mediator. "Allow me to be clear: We will not accept American leadership of a political process involving negotiations," Abbas said.

He said the Ramallah meeting must take decisions on how to move forward.

"Our stance is a Palestinian state in the '67 borders with a capital in East Jerusalem and the implementation of decisions by the international community, as well as a just solution for refugees," he said.

"We are for the national struggle, which is more effective because there is no one else we can rely on."

Hamas, Islamic Jihad absent

The two-day Central Council meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah - seat of the Palestinian Authority government - is being held with representatives from most Palestinian factions but without two important organisations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which announced that they would not attend, even though they were invited, Haaretz reported.

In the buildup to the meeting, Palestinian officials had stressed that all options were on the table for responding to Trump, including suspending the PLO's recognition of Israel.

Haaretz reported that talks over the weekend held by both the Fatah Central Committee and by the PLO’s Executive Committee included discussion of a slew of suggestions; among them is the idea of rejecting the Oslo Accords and security coordination on the grounds that Israel has breached all agreements, so the Palestinians are not committed to continue and uphold the accords.

The Oslo Accords are the 1993 agreement between Israel and the PLO which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Another suggestion would be asking the UN Security Council to recognise a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders as well as define PA lands as a country under occupation, Haaretz said. Yet another suggestion was to turn to the International Court of Law in order to start legal proceedings against Israel.

A senior member of the PLO’s Executive Committee told Haaretz that in spite of the dramatic atmosphere Abbas’s associates are trying to create, there is no expectation for game-changing moves.

Hugh Lovatt, Israel and Palestine Project Coordinator at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said while the speech was full of rhetoric, there was little noticeable policy.

"It is safe to say that President Abbas has done little to improve US-Palestinian relations, which have now reached their nadir," he told AFP.

"Abbas's rambling speech was also noteworthy for what was not there - namely, any real vision for moving beyond the failed US-led Oslo paradigm.

"Those hoping for a glimpse of a new Palestinian strategy to end the occupation or a shift towards a one-state solution will have been left disappointed."

While Palestinian leaders have been outraged by Trump's moves, they also face difficult choices in how to respond as they seek to salvage remaining hopes of a two-state solution to the conflict.

Earlier this month, Palestinian leaders said they would not be "blackmailed" after Trump threatened to cut aid worth more than $300m annually to force them to negotiate.

Trump says "we refused negotiations. May God demolish your house. When did we refuse?" asked an indignant Abbas.

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