Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said he would be “perfectly open” to meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in order to end weeks of Israeli-Palestinian unrest.
The Palestinian president has ignited an uproar in Israel after falsely claiming that Israel had “executed” a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who is recovering in an Israeli hospital, drawing new accusations that he is inciting violence at a time of heightened tensions.
Netanyahu told reporters he has been speaking to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other leaders about meeting with Abbas.
“I’d be perfectly open to it now,” he said.
“I think it’s potentially useful because it might stop the wave of incitement and false allegations against Israel,” he said. “I’d be open to meeting with Arab leaders and the Palestinian leadership in order to stop this incitement and set the record straight.”
There was no immediate comment from Abbas’ office.
The Palestinian boy, who was run over by an Israeli vehicle after involvement in the stabbing of an Israeli boy, has become the centre of heated, high-level name-calling between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders — reflecting the abyss between them after a monthlong spike in deadly violence.
Abbas said in a speech Wednesday that Israel is engaged in the “summary execution of our children in cold blood” and wrongly claimed that 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra was among those killed. Netanyahu swiftly accused Abbas of “lies and incitement.”
The case has become a lightning rod for both sides as they trade accusations. Netanyahu has repeatedly alleged that Abbas is inciting Palestinians to violence against Israel, a claim denied by the Palestinian leader. Abbas says Israel has been using excessive force against Palestinians.
In the past month, eight Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. During the same period, 31 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including 14 identified by Israel as attackers, and the others in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops.
Netanyahu Thursday rejected accusations by the Palestinians that Israel is using excessive force in its attempt to confront the stabbing attacks. The U.S. has also suggested that Israel may be using excessive force.
On Monday, Ahmed and his 15-year-old cousin Hassan stabbed and seriously wounded two Israelis, including a 13-year-old boy, in Jerusalem. Hassan was shot dead by police while Ahmed was struck by a car after the attack.
Amateur video widely circulated on Palestinian social media sites showed the wounded Ahmed lying on the ground after being struck, his legs splayed and a pool of blood near his head. Bystanders are heard cursing the boy in Hebrew and yelling at him, “Die!” The images, which made no mention of the stabbing, enraged many Palestinians.
Israel’s Hadassah Hospital, which is treating the boy, issued a statement Tuesday saying that “in stark contrast to circulating rumours,” he was stable and “fully conscious.”
In a speech that day, Netanyahu cited the Palestinian images as evidence of Palestinian incitement. “He tried to kill and murder,” Netanyahu said of the boy. “But the complete opposite is presented in a twisted way.”
Then on Wednesday, Israel released security camera footage that appears to show the two Manasra cousins wielding knives and chasing a terrified man through the streets of Pisgat Zeev, a Jewish area of east Jerusalem. The video moves to a shot of the boy who was stabbed standing in a candy store, getting on his bicycle and then crumbling over and falling off his bike after the attack. In a final scene, the older boy is seen being confronted by two armed policemen along a railway track. He lunges at the officers and is shot.
Abbas’ latest speech was aimed at his domestic audience and appeared to be an attempt to regain some of his standing, amid mounting criticism at home that he had been too conciliatory toward Israel.