Israel: Abbas refusal to discuss ‘Jewish state’ torpedoing talks

PA president’s stark position contrasts with Netanyahu’s willingness to recognize Palestinian state, senior official says

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas waves to supporters following his trip to Washington, DC, on Thursday, March 20, 2014, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (photo credit: AFP/Abbas Nomani)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas waves to supporters following his trip to Washington, DC, on Thursday, March 20, 2014, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (photo credit: AFP/Abbas Nomani)

By refusing to even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is destroying any chances of reaching a peace agreement, a senior Israeli official said Wednesday.

“President Abbas’s stubborn refusal to discuss mutual recognition between two nation-states stands in stark contrast with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s willingness to recognize a Palestinian state and his agreement that all of the core issues can be raised in the talks,” the official told The Times of Israel, a day after Abbas again dismissed the idea at an Arab League summit in Kuwait, and hours after the summit’s delegates expressed “total rejection” of Israel’s demand.

By clinging to his position, Abbas “could well torpedo the peace process,” the senior Israeli official said. “He boasted that he refuses to even discuss recognizing the Jewish state, once again parading rejectionism as virtue.”

Abbas was set to meet in Amman on Wednesday with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who cut short a trip to Italy in an effort to salvage the crumbling talks. Kerry was also expected to talk to Netanyahu via video conference.

Israel’s demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has emerged as a key sticking point in the current US-brokered peace negotiations. Netanyahu is adamant that he will not sign any deal without it, while Abbas and other senior PA officials insist they will never acquiesce to the demand.

“Israel has not missed an opportunity to derail US peace efforts, including raising new demands, such as the demand for recognition as a ‘Jewish state,’ which we have refused to so much as discuss,” Abbas said Tuesday at an Arab League Summit in Kuwait.

But Israel’s demand has prominent backing, the senior Israeli official indicated. US President Barack Obama has repeatedly declared that peace includes the Jewish state of Israel living side by side in security with a state of Palestine, according to the official. Thus “by reiterating his adversarial maximalist position, Abbas is undermining President Obama’s vision of peace and torpedoing Secretary Kerry’s efforts to move the process forward.”

The US administration recognizes Israel as a Jewish state and appears to support Netanyahu’s demand that such recognition is vital to a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state,” Obama said in Jerusalem in March 2013. However, Kerry, seemingly worried about the talks breaking down over the matter, recently said it was wrong to turn it into a make-or-break-issue.

“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be, you know, raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace,” Kerry said earlier this month, speaking to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Kerry said 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, adding that late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “confirmed that he agreed it [Israel] would be a Jewish state” in 1988 and in 2004.

Earlier on Wednesday, Arab leaders explicitly backed the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. “We express our total rejection of the call to consider Israel as a Jewish state,” they said in a final declaration after two-day Arab League summit in Kuwait.

The move was widely expected after a draft statement endorsed by foreign ministers on Sunday mentioned a “categorical rejection” of the requirement for recognition, dismissing “all pressures exerted on the Palestinian leadership” to agree to that demand.

Netanyahu considers the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state as the very core of the conflict.

“Our first and most unshakable demand is recognition,” he said in January at a conference in Tel Aviv. “This conflict has gone on for nearly 100 years,” he elaborated, telling the story of how a Jewish immigration office was attacked by rioting Palestinians in 1921. “There were no settlers there… There were no territories. There was a basic objection to any Jewish presence.” That sentiment has persisted among Palestinians ever since, Netanyahu suggested, leading to a struggle “against the very existence of the Jewish state, against Zionism or any geographic expression of it, any State of Israel in any border.”

The Zionist movement and various Israeli governments agreed to recognize a Palestinian state, “but this conflict has gone on because of one reason: the stubborn opposition to recognize the Jewish state, the nation-state of the Jewish people,” he said. “To end the conflict, they must recognize that in our land, this land, in the Jewish homeland, there are two peoples.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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