Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a condition for renewing peace talks is unacceptable to the United States, the State Department said during special envoy George Mitchell's visits over the weekend to Ramallah and Cairo.
The State Department released statements saying that the United States would continue to promote a two-state solution. In Ramallah, Mitchell met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mitchell's talks also seem to indicate that the United States does not accept Netanyahu's position that the renewal of negotiations should be postponed until the Iranian nuclear threat is removed.
While Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak has not spoken publicly on the issue, his associates said Saturday he is obligated to the party platform, which supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. The platform does not mention Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for establishing a Palestinian state.
Barak also reportedly opposes linking the renewal of the peace process with the Iranian threat and supports a regional peace agreement that includes dealing with that threat.
The demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people was raised for the first time about 18 months ago in talks between Israel and the United States ahead of the Annapolis Conference. Then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni demanded that the conference's closing statement mention a nation-state solution, a formulation meant to neutralize a Palestinian demand for refugees' right of return.
However, the Bush administration accepted the Palestinian objection that the issue should be subject to negotiation. The PLO leadership also told the United States that it supported unequivocally the Saudi peace initiative that includes a clause in favor of a just and agreed-on solution to the refugee problem in keeping with U.N. Resolution 194.
That resolution calls for the right of refugees to return at the earliest practicable date and compensation for those who choose not to return. The Arab League meeting last month appended a comment to its closing statement that its initiative does not include the right of return for refugees.
A few weeks before Yasser Arafat died in 2004, he told Haaretz that he understood that Israel is a Jewish state. However, he said on a number of occasions that official recognition by the PLO of this fact would hurt the status and feelings of the Palestinian minority in Israel. He said it was not the Palestinians' business to define the identity of another country.
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