JERUSALEM Arabs made a "mistake" by rejecting a 1947 U.N. proposal that would have created a Palestinian state alongside the nascent Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview aired on Friday.
Palestinian leaders have always insisted that General Assembly Resolution 181, which paved the way for Jewish statehood in parts of then British-ruled Palestine, must be resisted by Arabs who went to war over it.
Decades of regional fighting have hinged on challenges to Israel's existence and expansion. By describing historical fault on the Arab side, Abbas appeared to be offering Israel an olive branch while promoting his own bid to sidestep stalled peace talks by winning U.N. recognition for a sovereign Palestine.
"At that time, 1947, there was Resolution 181, the partition plan, Palestine and Israel. Israel existed. Palestine diminished. Why?" he told Israel's top-rated Channel Two television, speaking in English.
When the interviewer suggested the reason was Jewish leaders' acceptance of the plan and its rejection by the Arabs, Abbas said: "I know, I know. It was our mistake. It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole. But do they punish us for this mistake (for) 64 years?"
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has blamed the Palestinians for the diplomatic deadlock, citing what he described as a refusal by Abbas to recognise the roots of the conflict and encourage his people to accept the Jewish state.
Netanyahu's office declined immediate comment on Abbas's remarks, which Channel Two broadcast over the Jewish Sabbath.
Abbas, whose U.N. manoeuvring is opposed by Israel and the United States, says the problem is the Netanyahu government's continued settlement of the West Bank, where, along with the Gaza Strip, Palestinians now seek a state. Israel occupied those territories in the 1967 war and withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
U.N. solemnisation of their independence would help Palestinians pursue negotiations with Israel, which in turn could produce an "extra agreement that we put an end to the conflict," Abbas told Channel Two.
His language raised the hackles of his Islamist Hamas rivals, who control Gaza and with whom Abbas is trying to consolidate an Egyptian-brokered power-sharing accord.
Hamas opposes permanent coexistence with the Jewish state and has drawn core support from Palestinians dispossessed in the 1947-1948 war, when Israel overran Arab forces to take territory beyond that allotted it by Resolution 181.
"No one is authorised to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people and no one is authorised to wipe out any of the historical rights of our people," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.
"There is no need for Abu Mazen (Abbas) to beg the Occupation," Barhoum said, using a Hamas term for Israel.
Alluding to political turmoil which, in U.S.-aligned countries such as Egypt and Jordan, has emboldened popular hostility to Israel, Barhoum said Abbas "should arm himself with the emerging Arab support."
Asked on Channel Two how he could bring Hamas to agree to peacemaking, Abbas, himself a refugee from a town now in northern Israel, said: "Leave it to us, and we will solve it."
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Louise Ireland)