Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said there is “no way” he will recognize Israel as a Jewish state and accept a Palestinian capital in just a portion of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, rebuffing what Palestinians fear will be key elements of a U.S. peace proposal.
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Abbas’ comments signaled that the gaps between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain wide after seven months of mediation efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Abbas, whose remarks were published Friday by the Palestinian news agency WAFA, said he withstood international pressure in the past, when he sought UN recognition of a state of Palestine over Washington’s objections.
Speaking to youth activists of his Fatah party, he suggested he would stand firm again, particularly over the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“They are pressing and saying, ‘No peace without the Jewish state,’” he said, though not spelling out who is applying the pressure. “There is no way. We will not accept.”
Netanyahu gave interviews to Israeli TV stations, excerpts of which were broadcast Friday night.
“I am ready to proceed, I am ready to reach the end of the conflict, but it must be the end of the conflict,” Netanyahu told Channel 10 TV. “We won’t allow the establishment of a Palestinian state so that it will continue the conflict, so it needs to recognize the state of the Jews just like they are demanding from us that we recognize the state of the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu said Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty.
Netanyahu has said such recognition is required as proof that the Palestinians are serious about peace. Abbas has noted that the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized the state of Israel in 1993 and said this is sufficient.
Palestinians fear the demand is an Israel attempt to restrict possible return options of Palestinian refugees and the rights of Israel’s large Arab minority.
Kerry is expected to present his ideas for the contours of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal soon, but it appears increasingly unlikely he can get Abbas and Netanyahu to accept such a framework by an April 29 deadline.
Abbas is meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on March 17, as part of U.S. efforts to press both sides. Netanyahu met with Obama earlier this week.
The current round of talks began in late July, but was plagued from the start by disagreement between Abbas and Netanyahu on the ground rules. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem - lands Israel captured in 1967 - and said talks about that state should use the 1967 lines as a starting point, a position backed by the United States but rejected by Netanyahu.
In previous negotiations with Netanyahu’s predecessors, the Palestinians have said that they are willing to accept minor land swaps to enable Israel to keep some of the dozens of Jewish settlements built on occupied land since 1967. Most of the international community deems those settlements illegal under international law.
Netanyahu never presented a detailed border proposal, but said that Israel wants to keep East Jerusalem, maintain a long-term military presence in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley and annex unspecified “settlement blocs.”
Netanyahu accelerated settlement construction during the talks, with housing starts in settlements more than doubling in 2013, compared to the year before.
He also said the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a demand that appears to have U.S. support, based on recent speeches by Kerry and Obama.
Abbas said in his speech late Thursday that he would not compromise on a demand for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
Earlier Thursday, Abbas’ aide Mohammed Ishtayeh said he believes the Kerry proposal will only refer to such a capital “in Jerusalem,” raising fears the Palestinians will be asked to make do with a small part of the eastern sector.
Abbas did not refer to the possibility of extending the talks.
His aides have said he does not want to be blamed for a collapse of the Kerry mission or accept what the Palestinians would consider a bad framework. In such a situation, accepting an extension might be seen as the lesser evil by the Palestinians.
Abbas reiterated that the Palestinians have options if the negotiations don’t lead to a deal. He said he would resume their quest for wider UN recognition, a step Israel and the United States adamantly oppose and that was suspended for nine months of the negotiations. Abbas said the Palestinians could also continue to resist occupation with demonstrations.
He said he does not want to negotiate for the sake of talking.
“I accept a valuable chance [for an agreement] if there really is a valuable chance, not just talk,” he said.