Arab foreign ministers notified US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday that they will not accept Israel as a Jewish state nor compromise on Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem, backing positions voiced by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki told the official daily Al-Ayyam on Monday that nine Arab foreign ministers, comprising the followup committee for the Arab Peace Initiative, had agreed during a meeting in Paris Saturday to present to Kerry a unified Arab position on core Palestinian demands.
The meeting between Kerry and the foreign ministers took place on Sunday evening at the residence of the American ambassador in Paris, and is the fifth meeting between Kerry and the Arab follow-up committee, Al-Ayyam reported.
“A clear and unified Arab and Palestinian position was presented [to Kerry] rejecting the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state,” Malki told the daily. “The American secretary heard this position from me and from other Arab foreign ministers, who also consider East Jerusalem to be the capital of the Palestinian state.”
The Arab positions on Jerusalem and Israel’s “Jewishness” are a direct challenge to a demand voiced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for signing a peace deal with the Palestinians. In recent days, Netanyahu was quoted by Israeli media as saying that he will push for the exclusion of the Jerusalem issue from negotiations.
Netanyahu faces heavy pressure to hold his ground from coalition partners as well as hardliner members of his Likud party. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home party, threatened on January 7 to leave the coalition if any concessions were made on Jerusalem.
“Enough with the games,” Bennett told an audience in Tel Aviv. “We will no longer play word games: ’67 lines’ means the division of Jerusalem; giving up the Mount of Olives where Menachem Begin, Rav Kook, and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda are buried; and giving up the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and the Old City.”
The Arab ministers’ position comes amid a toughening in Palestinian rhetoric as well, as the US prepares to present both sides with a framework agreement which will specify all core issues and open a new round of negotiations.
In a fiery speech delivered Saturday, Abbas said that Palestinians will never forgo the demand for East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. Abbas also said he will not recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, an Israeli demand the United States has endorsed.
Speaking to the press in Paris, Kerry did not comment on the Arab position but said only that both sides “have made tough choices, and they are contemplating even tougher choices in the weeks ahead.” Last week, a US State Department spokesman denied the US was seeking to alter the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative to recognize Israel as a Jewish State.
According to Malki, Kerry told the Arab ministers that if negotiations failed he would not hesitate to publicly name the side “which provided concessions and cooperated with his efforts and the side which refused to cooperate.”