Diplomacy & defense

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas as reappointed to head Fatah, the largest and oldest Palestinian movement
Steinitz calls the Palestinian leader's remarks at a Fatah party congress in Ramallah 'a sad joke'

A leading minister called Mahmud Abbas Israel's top ideological enemy on Thursday after the Palestinian president suggested he could withdraw recognition if progress was not made towards peace.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, seen as close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the Palestinian leader's remarks at a Fatah party congress in Ramallah on Wednesday "a sad joke."

"Abu Mazen talks about stopping recognising Israel -- he never really recognised Israel's right to exist and the Jewish people's right to a state of their own," Steinitz told army radio, referring to Abbas.

"Ideologically Abu Mazen is the number one enemy of the very existence of Israel, even more than (Yasser) Arafat was," he said referring to Abbas's predecessor, who led an armed struggle against Israel before signing the Oslo peace accords of 1993 and 1995.

While Palestinian leaders have recognised the state of Israel, Israeli leaders have called on them to do so as a "Jewish state", which Abbas has refused.

For the Palestinians, doing so could preempt negotiations on the so-called right of return, the demand that Palestinian refugees from the time of Israel's creation in 1948 be allowed back under a peace deal.

Israeli leaders say the refusal shows the Palestinians are not truly interested in peace with a Jewish-majority nation.

Speaking at his Fatah party's first congress since 2009, Abbas said: "Our recognition of the state of Israel is not free and must receive mutual recognition in return.

"If Israel goes to the UN and is recognised as a 'Jewish national republic of Israel', then they will have international recognition," the 81-year-old said during his three-hour speech.

"At the moment, we must lead a peaceful popular resistance and we want to keep our hand extended for peace, but if Israel does not recognise us, we will withdraw our recognition."

While Israeli politicians accuse Abbas and other Palestinian leaders of inciting violence, Israeli military officials have saluted his efforts to coordinate security.

Israel's security establishment sees him as far preferable to Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip.

Iran and Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah are regularly named as Israel's top threats in the Middle East.

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