erekat - Dan Keinan - Dec 29 2008
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a file photo. Photo by Dan Keinan
Text size

The Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, senior Palestinian officials said on Tuesday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed to freeze settlement construction in exchange for that condition.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that demand could never be accepted, while his colleague Nabil Sha'ath added that the government in Ramallah would not tolerate a partial construction freeze and that the moratorium must also be applied in East Jerusalem.

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabo accused Netanyahu of using the proposal to weaken the image of U.S. President Barack Obama in the Middle East.

Rabo also said Netanyahu was begging to destroy the peace process and had made the offer to distract from deliberations on the core issues.

The Palestinian leadership was prompt to reject Netanyahu's proposal when he offered it on Monday.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said a return to U.S.-backed peace talks required a freeze on settlement building by Israel and emphasized that:

"The issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter."

In his proposal, Netanyahu stressed that Israel was willing to make concessions and that a peace deal and a Palestinian state could be achieved if the Palestinians would be willing to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.

"If the Palestinian leadership will say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and request a further suspension," Netanyahu said while speaking at the opening of the third session of the 18th Knesset.

"The Palestinians wasted 10 months and now they demand to continue the [settlement] freeze. I hope their demand isn't a ploy to avoid the concessions that must be made in order to achieve a peace deal," he said.