State Dep’t Defends Abbas; No Comment on His Silence After Deadly Attack

Patrick Goodenough | October 24, 2014 | 4:49am EDT
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President Obama and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in March 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

( – The State Department on Thursday sidestepped an invitation to comment on Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ silence in response to the killing of an American baby in a Jerusalem attack, or to respond to Israeli claims that recent Abbas remarks have incited violence.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki instead defended the P.A. leader, saying that he “has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution” to the conflict with Israel.

Abbas has voiced no public condemnation of Wednesday’s attack, in which a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, Adbel-Rahman Shaludi, drove his car into a group of pedestrians, killing three-month old Chaya Zissel Braun and injuring eight other people.

However an Abbas aide, Sultan Abu al-Einein, described the killer – who died after being shot by police as he tried to flee the scene – as a “heroic martyr.” Abbas’ Fatah organization used the same epithet on its official Facebook page in praising Shaludi for the “operation, in which settlers in the occupied city of Jerusalem were run over.” Palestinian Media Watch translated and reported on the two online obituaries.

Shortly after the attack Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of inciting violence with comments made just days earlier – a reference to Abbas’ widely-reported call on Palestinians to defend the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount from supposed Israeli threats “by any means.”

At Thursday’s State Department briefing, a reporter asked Psaki whether the administration felt Abbas’ recent statements had amounted to incitement to violence.

“We obviously believe that the act last night warrants condemnation, evidenced by the statement we released last night,” she replied. “I’m not going to characterize the comments made or not made by President – Prime Minister Netanyahu or the response from President Abbas.”

Asked about the fact Abbas had not condemned the attack, she said, “I would point you to him on any comments that they would like to make.”

Psaki was asked again whether the administration was concerned about comments by Abbas that were viewed by some as incitement.

“I don’t think that’s – as you know, President Abbas has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states,” she responded. “I don’t have any other analysis for you to offer.”

Psaki confirmed that the baby girl who was killed in the Jerusalem attack was an American citizen.

In an earlier statement condemning the attack, Psaki called for restraint from “all sides.”

The Obama administration, like its predecessor, has invested heavily in Abbas, portraying him as a moderate and a key “partner for peace” with Israel.

Veteran P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat meanwhile slammed Netanyahu for his remarks about Abbas.

“By recklessly claiming that President Abbas is inciting terrorism, Mr. Netanyahu has turned his back on peace,” Palestinian media quoted him as telling reporters in Ramallah on Thursday.

“Instead of pursuing peace, his government systematically violates international law in order to consolidate its apartheid regime in Palestine,” Erekat added.

The Islamist movement Hamas said Shaludi was one of its members, and praised what it called his “brave” attack.

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