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PLO slams party leader's call for 'Palestinian genocide'

Aug. 29, 2010 2:40 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2010 9:53 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The chief PLO negotiator on Sunday called on the Israeli government to denounce recent remarks by Israel's former chief rabbi and to take action against outbursts of racism from other elected officials.

Saeb Erekat said Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's Saturday sermon, in which Yosef said Palestinians should "perish," had largely passed without condemnation.

Yosef said President Mahmoud Abbas, who is scheduled to meet Netanyahu on 2 September in Washington to relaunch talks, "and all these evil people should perish from this world ... God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians," he said. In 2001, Yosef called for annihilating all Arabs.

"The spiritual leader of Shas is literally calling for a genocide against Palestinians and there seems to be no response from the Israeli government," Erekat said Sunday in a statement noting that Yosef's party is one of the main coalition members in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

"While the PLO is ready to resume negotiations in seriousness and good faith, a member of the Israeli government is calling for our destruction" and the assassination of the Palestinian president, Erekat said. "It is an insult to all our efforts to advance the negotiations process."

Erekat called on Israel "do more about peace and stop spreading hatred" and said Yosef's comments could be placed within the larger context of Israel's "policy against a Palestinian state" such as settlement expansion, home demolitions and isolating Jerusalem from the West Bank, among other measures.

Shas officials moved swiftly to downplay the significance of Yosef's remarks.

"His intention was, may God end the hostility of the evil ones against us. It's convenient to view us as if we don't want peace, but this isn't correct," Knesset member Nissim Ze'ev told the Israeli news site Walla.

"The rabbi supports negotiations for peace and peace. The Jewish people have many enemies and the rabbi didn't mean to say they’ll all be destroyed, just that their hatred toward us will end," Ze'ev said.

Other lawmakers backed Yosef, suggesting he was only saying what most Israelis believe.

Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari explained that "what Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said is what most people in Israel think. Abbas is a more dangerous enemy than Hamas. They both want the destruction of Israel, but Abu Mazen's deceptions are more nuanced. People are misidentifying a terrorist murderer as a man of peace."

The left-wing Israeli party Meretz condemned Yosef's remarks.

Earlier, the Palestinian Authority described the former chief rabbi's sermon as "racial incitement."

PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib called on Netanyahu and leader of the Shas party and Interior Minister Elli Yishay to "make clear their own condemnation of the rabbi's sermon."

"The way to peace is to end incitement and the culture of hatred in Israel toward Palestinians. We demand that Israel take serious measures to end incitement," Khatib said in a statement.

"These hateful remarks cannot be dismissed as politically insignificant, as they come from a religious leader whose words are intended to be taken seriously," he added. "Unless Israeli leaders say these words are immoral and indefensible, we have to conclude that they condone incitement to hatred."

Khatib warned that the Netanyahu's association with the Shas leader could jeopardize peace talks and urged the government to make clear "it is a genuine partner for peace, not a coalition that associates itself with incitement against the Palestinians."

Shas has 11 members in Israel's parliament, with four ministers including Yishai, the deputy prime minister. Earlier in the week, Yishai said his party would oppose an extension to the West Bank settlement building moratorium, due to expire shortly after talks renew.

The PLO and PA have warned that continued settlement building could derail talks.
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