Kerry: ‘Jewish state’ demand ‘a mistake’

Issue shouldn’t make or break Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations, US secretary of state tells Congress

US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak/File)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak/File)

Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state is a mistake, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday, adding that the issue should not be a critical factor in whether the current round of Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations succeed or fail.

Speaking to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kerry put the kibosh on the demand, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made central to peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

“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, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry said.

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.

After bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table and ending a three-year negotiating freeze, Kerry has been focused on trying to hammer out a framework deal which is due to set out the end goal of the talks plus guiding principles on each of the core issues.

On Wednesday, Kerry told lawmakers that the two sides were still far from coming to an agreement.

“The level of mistrust is as large as any level of mistrust I’ve ever seen, on both sides,” he said.

Decades of negotiations have been bedeviled by some of the toughest disputes separating the two sides, such as the fate of Palestinian refugees and the designation of Jerusalem claimed by both sides as a capital.

In recent months Netanyahu has been insisting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 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.

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