Tel Aviv, Israel — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has issued a statement calling the Holocaust “the ugliest crime known to man in the modern era,” a declaration which was promptly dismissed by the Israeli prime minister as pandering.
Abbas’ words seemed more significant for their timing than their substance, published as they were on Sunday, just hours ahead of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will run from Sunday evening into Monday.
The statement was published in English, Arabic and Hebrew by the official WAFA news agency and also comes as the latest US-led attempt at negotiations appears to be lurching to an end.
The presidency says Abbas discussed the Holocaust with Marc Schneier, an American rabbi who heads a Jewish-Muslim interfaith group. Schneier met with Abbas in Ramallah last week.
“What happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era,” Abbas said, according to the statement.
“The Palestinian people, who suffer from injustice, oppression and denied freedom and peace, are the first to demand to lift the injustice and racism that befell other peoples subjected to such crimes,” Abbas added.
It is not the first time Abbas has openly discussed the Holocaust. In a 2003 interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, he called the Holocaust “a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation.”
Several senior Israeli officials, including the foreign minister, have recently called Abbas a Holocaust denier and argued that they cannot negotiate with him.
Speaking on Sunday before a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu dismissed the statement as a public-relations stunt and complained about the reconciliation deal that Fatah and Hamas signed last week in Gaza, their latest attempt at ending a seven-year schism.
Israel froze negotiations after the deal was announced, saying it would not negotiate with Hamas, which does not recognise its existence.
“Rather than releasing declarations aimed at pacifying world public opinion, he must choose between Hamas and true peace,” Netanyahu said.
CNN quoted Netanyahu as saying that for peace talks to continue, Hamas must recognise Israel or Abbas must renounce the movement.
“If one of those things happened, we could get back to the peace negotiations. I hope he renounces Hamas and gets back to the peace table, as I’ve just said. The ball is in his court,” he added.
Abbas said on Saturday that the new “national consensus” government being formed under the deal will follow the programme of his Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which does recognise Israel.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, told the Quds Press news agency on Sunday that the new government would not block negotiations with Israel, “which are the job of the PLO.”
There was no comment from Hamas on Abbas’ statement. Some Hamas officials have, in the past, denied the Holocaust and protested against alleged attempts to teach it in United Nations-run schools in Gaza.