'May God demolish your house': Palestinian leadership meets to respond to Trump's 'slap of the century'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (centre) speaking at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council in Ramallah on Jan 14, 2018.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (centre) speaking at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council in Ramallah on Jan 14, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

RAMALLAH, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES (AFP) - Palestinian leaders met on Monday (Jan 15) to plan a response to what they see as US President Donald Trump's attack on their long bid for statehood, after Mahmoud Abbas denounced White House peace efforts as the "slap of the century".

The rare meeting of the Palestinian Central Council - a high-ranking arm of the Palestine Liberation Organisation - was called after Mr Trump's controversial Dec 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Palestinians want the annexed eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state, and President Abbas has said Mr Trump's stance means the US can no longer be the mediator in peace talks with Israel.

The US president has sought to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, with talks stalled since 2014.

Speaking late on Sunday at the opening of the council, which brings together Palestinians from multiple political parties, Mr Abbas told delegates: "We said 'no' to Trump, 'we will not accept your project.'"

"The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it," the 82-year-old leader added, referring to Mr Trump's pledge to reach the "ultimate deal".

He instead called for an internationally mediated peace process.

Israel is unlikely to accept any other mediator than the United States, accusing United Nations bodies of systematic bias against it.

The delegates began meeting on Monday morning, with talks expected to end in the evening with a joint statement.

The last meeting of the PCC in 2015 called for ending security coordination with Israel, but its decisions were non-binding and it was never implemented.

The Palestinians' relations with the US leadership have deteriorated rapidly since Mr Trump's election.

He came to power promising to lead the most pro-Israel administration in history, but also to pursue a peace deal.

His envoys, including senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, had been shuttling between the two sides in search of common ground.

But Mr Trump also infuriated the Palestinians by refusing to commit to the idea of an independent Palestinian state, and recently threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid.

The Jerusalem announcement prompted the Palestinians to freeze ties with the administration, and Mr Abbas is expected to shun Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region next week.

On Sunday night, Mr Abbas attacked the US ambassadors to Israel and the United Nations, Mr David Friedman and Ms Nikki Haley, calling them a "disgrace".

Both Trump appointees have been strong supporters of Israel, with Mr Friedman having backed Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

An indignant Mr Abbas also said that Mr Trump had accused them of refusing to engage in peace negotiations.

"May God demolish your house. When did we refuse?" he said, using a common Arabic curse.

Israeli media focused heavily on the phrase on Monday, while Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the statement showed Mr Abbas was "losing his wits and giving up negotiations".

In a speech during a visit to India on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention Mr Abbas' comments.

Mr Abbas said all options were on the table for responding to Mr Trump's Jerusalem declaration, but did not specifically mention suspending recognition of Israel or ending security coordination with the Jewish state - both policies mooted in the days before the council.

He did, however, say the Oslo accords that led to the creation of his Palestinian Authority and envisioned a final resolution to the conflict were in effect finished.

"I am saying that Oslo, there is no Oslo. Israel ended Oslo," he said, referring to persistent Israeli settlement building and other issues seen as eroding the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict.

In response to Mr Abbas' comments, the European Union said its position on the conflict remains "based on the Oslo accords".

"A negotiated two-state solution which fulfils the aspirations of both sides, Israel and Palestine, is the only realistic way of bringing the lasting peace and security that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve," European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels.

France, which organised an international conference in support of the two-state solution a year ago, issued a similar reaction, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow "understands" Mr Abbas' anger.

"For years they made concessions without receiving anything in return," Mr Lavrov said at an annual press conference in Moscow.

"We constantly hear that the US is about to unveil an important deal that would satisfy all sides. We have not seen this kind of document."