RAMALLAH — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said there is “no way” he will recognize Israel as a Jewish state and accept a Palestinian capital in just a portion of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, rebuffing what Palestinians fear will be key elements of a US peace proposal.
Abbas’s comments signaled that the gaps between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain wide after seven months of mediation efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Abbas, whose remarks were published on Friday by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, said he withstood international pressure in the past, when he sought UN recognition of a state of Palestine over Washington’s objections.
Speaking to youth activists of his Fatah party, he suggested he would stand firm again, particularly over the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“They are pressing and saying, ‘no peace without the Jewish state,'” he said, though not spelling out who is applying the pressure. “There is no way. We will not accept.”
Netanyahu has said such recognition is required as proof that the Palestinians are serious about a final end to the conflict. Abbas has noted that the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized the state of Israel in 1993 and said this is sufficient.
Palestinians fear the demand is an Israeli attempt to restrict possible return options of Palestinian refugees and the rights of Israel’s large Arab minority. Israeli leaders have openly said the demand is partly to counter Palestinian demand for the return of millions of descendants of refugees, but have rejected the connection to Israel’s Arab citizens.
Kerry is expected to present his ideas for the contours of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal soon, but it appears increasingly unlikely he can get Abbas and Netanyahu to accept such a framework by an April 29 deadline.
Abbas is meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House on March 17, as part of US efforts to press both sides. Netanyahu met with Obama earlier this week.
The current round of talks began in late July, but was plagued from the start by disagreement between Abbas and Netanyahu on the ground rules. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967, and said talks about that state should use the 1967 lines as a starting point, a position backed by the US but rejected by Netanyahu. Israel wants negotiations to include land swaps that would see major West Bank settlement blocs adjacent to the Green Line joined to Israel and other land attached to a future Palestine in compensation.
In previous negotiations with Netanyahu’s predecessors, the Palestinians have said that they are willing to accept minor land swaps to enable Israel to keep some of the dozens of Jewish settlements built on occupied land since 1967. Most of the international community deems those settlements illegal under international law.
Netanyahu has also demanded the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a demand that appears to have US support, based on recent speeches by Kerry and Obama.
Abbas said in his speech late Thursday that he would not compromise on a demand for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
Earlier Thursday, Abbas’ aide Mohammed Ishtayeh said he believes the Kerry proposal will only refer to such a capital “in Jerusalem,” raising fears the Palestinians will be asked to make do with a small part of the eastern sector.
Abbas did not refer to the possibility of extending the talks.
His aides have said he does not want to be blamed for a collapse of the Kerry mission or accept what the Palestinians would consider a bad framework. In such a situation, accepting an extension might be seen as the lesser evil by the Palestinians.
Abbas reiterated that the Palestinians have options if the negotiations don’t lead to a deal. He said he would resume their quest for wider UN recognition, a step Israel and the US adamantly oppose and that was suspended for the nine months of negotiations. Abbas said the Palestinians could also continue to resist occupation with demonstrations.
He said he does not want to negotiate for the sake of talking.
“I accept a valuable chance (for an agreement) if there really is a valuable chance, not just talk,” he said.