Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will tell President Barack Obama on Monday that he rejects the Israeli demand to officially acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian officials said on Sunday.
The Palestinian president reportedly said at the weekend he would consider extending the peace talks beyond April if the Israeli government freezes settlement construction and agrees to free additional Palestinian prisoners beyond those set to be released in two weeks.
According to Haaretz, the White House meeting between the two men will focus on outlining the borders of a future Palestinian state.
“The two leaders will discuss all issues concerning the two-state solution, according to a just peace agreement that would establish an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem,” Fatah spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said over the weekend.
The PA president will also reiterate the Palestinian refusal to formally recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, a stance Palestinian officials said is backed by both the Arab League and Russia.
In recent months Netanyahu has insisted that Abbas recognize Israel as “a Jewish state” — something Palestinians are refusing to do, believing it would irrevocably torpedo chances for the return of refugees living in exile. Israel rejects any mass “return” of refugees and their descendants to Israel, since this could drastically alter the Jewish state’s demographic balance, and says Palestinian refugees should become citizens of a Palestinian state.
“If Netanyahu thinks we will become pro-Zionist he is very much mistaken,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told Haaretz. “The question the Israelis need to ask themselves is whether they are interested in eliminating the two-state solution and willing to take responsibility for the ramifications of this policy.”
Speaking to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry said it was a mistake for Israel to insist on official recognition of the Jewish state.
Kerry noted that the “Jewish state” issue was addressed by UN Resolution 181 in 1947, which granted international recognition to the fledgling state of Israel. There are “more than 40 — 30 mentions of a ‘Jewish state’” in the resolution, Kerry said, and added that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “confirmed that he agreed it [Israel] would be a Jewish state” in 1988 and in 2004.
However, an unnamed Palestinian official brushed off the suggestion that Arafat had formally recognized Israel as such.
“It is not accurate in terms of his formulation and the political situation [at the time],” he said.
“You can’t take things out of context,” he added. “Arafat never agreed to give up the right of return or the national principles of the Palestinian people.”
Speaking to Channel 2 on Saturday, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Abbas was “a partner for taking, but not a partner for giving. He’s not a partner for a final agreement, at the end of which there is recognition of Israel’s rights as the nation state of the Jewish people, an end of the conflict and an end to all demands. He [Abbas] says this openly.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.