PA official: We’ll consider Jewish state issue at end of talks

Nabil Shaath says once other questions are solved, Palestinians may be open to discussing key Israeli demand

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Nabil Shaath at his Ramallah office, January 18, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Nabil Shaath at his Ramallah office, January 18, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Palestinians would be open to discussions about recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, but only at the end of peace talks, a senior Palestinian official said in remarks published Tuesday.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Nabil Shaath said that Israel’s decision to raise the issue before any other sticking points are solved gives the impression that Jerusalem is trying to torpedo the talks.

“Had this come at the end, after having resolved all these issues, it would have become an issue that we could settle by simply asking practical questions… and if we get the right answers it could have been resolved then. But now, it’s very suspicious,” Shaath said.

Shaath, who sits on the Fatah Central Committee and is a former neogtiator, said the Palestinians would consider studying the issue at the end of talks.

“We will study it and we will ask practical questions… and if these questions are answered correctly, we will think about it,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a key Israeli demand in peace talks.

Ramallah insists that it should not have to grant any such recognition.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry told American lawmakers that the Israeli condition was a “mistake.”

“We know that’s an issue that the Israelis have spoken about, but we will let those issues remain discussed behind closed doors,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Monday shortly after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with US President Barack Obama.

Meeting at the White House, Abbas said that “since 1988 and into 1993, we have been extending our hands to our Israeli neighbors so that we can reach a fair and lasting peace to this problem. Since 1988, we have recognized international legitimacy resolutions and this was a very courageous step on the part of the Palestinian leadership. And in 1993, we recognized the State of Israel.”

During his meeting with Obama, Abbas said that from the Palestinian perspective, “we don’t have any time to waste. Time is not on our side.”

He discussed March 29 as the target date for the final release of Palestinian prisoners to which Israel committed as part of the agreement for a nine-month period of talks. That period, which began in July, is set to expire in April. Abbas said that the release of prisoners “will give a very solid impression about the seriousness of the Israelis on the peace process.”

Israeli ministers said last week that they would have difficulty approving the release if an agreement was not reached to extend the peace talks.

Israel committed to the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners when talks were launched in July. It has so far released 78 of those in three phases, with Palestinians demanding that the fourth — scheduled for later this month — also include Arab Israelis, something Israel has rejected.

A major effort is underway in Washington to make sure that both sides remain at the negotiating table after the conclusion of the nine-month period, and Abbas’s statement indicated that the release would be a critical factor in a decision to continue talks.

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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