JERUSALEM— 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 center 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 televised speech late 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 in an increasingly charged atmosphere. 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.
In his remarks to reporters Thursday, Netanyahu 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, have enraged many Palestinians.
Israel’s Hadassah Hospital, which is treating the boy, issued a statement Tuesday saying that “in stark contrast to circulating rumors,” he was stable and “fully conscious.”
In a speech to parliament 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. Behind the scenes, Abbas has been urging his security commanders to clamp down on violence, saying attacks on Israelis counter Palestinian interests.
But in public, he has adopted a tougher tone, drawing Israeli accusations that his rhetoric is stirring up the violence.
“We will not give in to the logic of brute force and policies of occupation and aggression practiced by the Israeli government and its herds of settlers who engage in terrorism against our people and our holy places and our homes and our trees, and the summary execution of our children in cold blood, as they did with the child Ahmed Manasra and other children in Jerusalem and other places,” he said in Wednesday’s address.
Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Abbas’ comments were a result of inaccurate information.
“We thought in the beginning that he (Ahmed) was killed,” Erekat said. “Then the information we had was that he is clinically dead.”
There appeared to be no attempt by Abbas’ office to set the record straight. Instead, it accused Israel of inciting against the Palestinian leader.
Erekat said Abbas was trying to underscore claims that Israel is wrongfully killing Palestinians being accused of carrying out attacks.
“There could have been many ways to arrest those people, but they chose to shoot in order to kill, and this is what happened in many cases,” he said, calling for an international investigation.
Abbas’ claims caused a strong reaction in Israel.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement that “truth isn’t relative.”
“You can’t turn a murderer into a victim and blame the victim that he tried to protect himself,” he said.
Israeli commentator Ben Caspit wrote in the Maariv daily said that Abbas’ “lie makes us despair.”
“It’s hard to ignore it and move on,” he wrote. “How can the shrinking peace camp in Israel continue to believe that it is possible to reach agreement, to hold a dialogue, to have coexistence with a society that is incapable of telling the truth, even to itself?”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Thursday published Twitter photos of Ahmed in his hospital bed.
“The ‘murdered Palestinian martyr,” a few minutes ago at Hadassah Hospital,” a ministry statement said sarcastically. Later, the Israeli Government Press Office released video showing the boy in his hospital bed being fed by a male nurse.
Dr. Asher Salmon, the deputy director of Hadassah, said the boy is in “light to moderate condition,” and that he could expect to be discharged in coming days.
Israel has beefed up security across the country in response to the unrest. On Thursday, the military said it would deploy 300 soldiers in the streets of Jerusalem to help police maintain order.
It said the soldiers will help guard public transportation and the city’s main arteries. They will be deployed on Sunday. Israel has already sent thousands of additional police officers to Jerusalem and erected a series of checkpoints in Palestinian neighborhoods of the city.
Police also said they would bar Muslim men under the age of 40 from entering the sensitive Jerusalem holy site at the center of the recent violence for Friday prayers, where clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police often erupt.