Arab League Backs Abbas' Refusal to Recognize Israel as Jewish State

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The Arab League on Sunday endorsed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' rejection of Israel's demand for recognition as a Jewish state, as U.S.-backed peace talks approach a deadline at the end of next month.

The United States wants Abbas to make the concession as part of efforts to reach a "framework agreement" and extend the talks aimed at settling the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The council of the Arab League confirms its support for the Palestinian leadership in its effort to end the Israeli occupation over Palestinian lands, and emphasizes its rejection of recognizing Israel as a 'Jewish state'," Arab foreign ministers said in a statement in Cairo.

Senior Palestinian Authority officials told Haaretz Sunday that they expect more messages like in the coming days to bolster their position regarding the core issues in the negotiations, and specifically the issue of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

"There is no doubt we are now in the midst of an international diplomatic process and it is important that we coordinate with as many countries as possible who support the Palestinian position," a senior Palestinian official said.

A member of the PLO Executive Committee told Haaretz that the Palestinian leadership has not yet received any information from Abu Mazen on the steps that will be taken after April 29 deadline for negotiations. "It appears Abu Mazen is waiting until his meeting with Obama in 10 days. Then he will decide whether to continue negotiations on the basis of agreements made with the Americans or try and come up with a new formula"

Arab governments, distracted by the upheaval convulsing the region since the 2011 Arab uprisings, have previously taken few stands on the floundering peace talks, leaving Abbas isolated.

Netanyahu has made recognition of his country as a Jewish state a requirement for peace. The issue has lately overshadowed other stumbling blocks over borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

Palestinians fear the label would lead to discrimination against Israel's sizeable Arab minority, while Israelis say it recognizes Jewish history and rights on the land.

"In recognizing the Jewish state, you (Palestinians) would finally make clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict," Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

"So recognize the Jewish state, no excuses, no delays. It is time," he said in a speech to the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby.

Abbas complained on Saturday that Palestinians were being asked for something that had not been demanded of Arab countries that have previously signed peace treaties with Israel.

"We recognized Israel in mutual recognition in the (1993) Oslo agreement - why do they now ask us to recognize the Jewishness of the state?" he asked.

"Why didn't they present this demand to Jordan or Egypt when they signed a peace agreement with them?" Abbas added.

The United States is hoping to get the two sides to agree on some general points, including the "Jewish state" issue and a rough understanding on borders, as part of what it calls a framework deal that could lead to the prolongation of the talks, which have achieved little since they began seven months ago.

This article was amended on March 11 to acknowledge that Benjamin Netanyahu was not the first Israeli prime minister to demand Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state as a condition to peace talks.

Arab Foreign Ministers meet at the Arab League building in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, March 9, 2014.Credit: AP

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