Abbas’s UK envoy summoned to Ramallah over Jewish state recognition

Ambassador says he was ‘tricked’ over article that also called to relinquish demands for right of return, approve Israeli annexation of some settlements

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Manuel Hassassian,  the Palestinian Authority's diplomatic representative to the United Kingdom (photo credit: YouTube screencap)
Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority's diplomatic representative to the United Kingdom (photo credit: YouTube screencap)

A Palestinian diplomat was ordered to report to Ramallah after he suggested the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state and relinquish demands for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, views that stand contrary to the Palestinian government’s official positions on the issues.

In an article published Thursday in Fathom, a quarterly devoted to Israel and the Middle East, Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, wrote that in order to truly achieve a lasting peace agreement, the Palestinian leadership must officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state and heavily revise current demands for a full-fledged right of return for Palestinian refugees. But he said Friday that he had been “tricked” over the article.

“Ramallah was very angry with this statement,” Amal Jadou, the head of the Palestinian Authority foreign ministry’s European desk said, according to the Daily Telegraph. Jadou said Hassassian would have to clarify his stance on the matter.

Hassassian said that his views had been misunderstood and that the article had been published before he had a chance to review its final version.

“I didn’t read the final version and my friend, Professor Cohen-Almagor, has published it,” he told The Telegraph. “He wrote the article and I made some input. He submitted it, not me. It feels like being tricked. I’m really upset.”

Hassassian said that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state was at this point “out of the question,” though he did not rule out the possibility that the notion may be discussed by Israel and the Palestinians in the future.

“Perhaps when there is a Palestinian state and there is an official end to the conflict, then [recognition of Israel as a Jewish state] may be considered, but not at this stage.”

In the Fathom piece, Hassassian and Israeli professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor outlined the steps that in their opinion would be necessary for the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to take in order to assure a final peace deal is realized.

“We believe that if there is a will, there is a way,” they wrote. “Peace is a precious commodity and therefore requires a high price for its achievement, reaching a solution that is agreeable to both.”

The authors posited that the ongoing conflict could only come to an end if both Israel and the Palestinians recognized the right of the other to self determination.

“Both sides need to make painful concessions and reach a compromise,” they wrote. “Israel shall recognize the State of Palestine. Palestine shall recognize the Jewish State of Israel.”

Hassassian’s statements in the piece were contrary to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent insistence that there was “no way” the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

“They are pressing and saying, ‘no peace without the Jewish state,’” Abbas said in March, though he did not spell out who was applying the pressure. “There is no way. We will not accept.”

The Palestinian envoy and Cohen-Almagor went on to state that both negotiating sides must agree upon a plan to resettle and rehabilitate Palestinian refugees, as the issue posed a major obstacle for the peace process.

“For Palestinians, this issue is about their history, justice and fairness. For Israelis, this is a debated issue, where many Israelis are unwilling to claim responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy and most Israelis object to the right of return as this would mean the end of the Jewish State,” the article read.

Hassassian and Cohen-Almagor suggested that 1948 Palestinian refugees should be allowed to settle in the future Palestinian state while other Palestinians would be absorbed by different countries based on previously set quotas. Israel, however, would not be forced to accept a massive influx of refugees and their descendants into its territory, though unification of families living on either side of the Jewish state’s border would be allowed on a limited scale.

Again, this marked a departure from Abbas’s positions; he said in January that he could not negotiate away the absolute right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to sovereign Israel.

The authors further stated that Israel was entitled to annex large settlement blocs in the West Bank as part of an agreed-upon land swap scheme with the Palestinian Authority. The rest of the settlements beyond the Green Line, Hassassian said, must be evacuated by Israel.

“The major settlement blocs – Maaleh Adumim, Givat Zeev, Gush Etzion, Modiin Illit and Ariel – which account for approximately 70 percent of the Jewish population in the West Bank and for less than four percent of its territory, may be annexed to Israel upon reaching an agreement with the PA as part of the land swap equal in size and quality,” they wrote. “Border adjustment must be kept to the necessary minimum and must be reciprocal.”

In previous negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians have said that they would be willing to accept minor land swaps to enable Israel to keep some of the dozens of Jewish settlements built in the West Bank since the territory was captured during the 1967 Six Day War. Most of the international community deems those settlements illegal under international law.

The Palestinian ambassador and the Israeli professor added that both the Palestinian Authority and Israel must work together in order to curb violence and adopt a zero-tolerance stance toward terrorist activity.

“Both sides will see that their citizens on both sides of the border reside in peace and tranquility,” they wrote. “Zealots and terrorists, Palestinian and Jews, will receive tough penalties for any violation of peace and tranquility.”

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