Abbas rejects call to recognise Israel as Jewish state

PALESTINIAN President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday dismissed calls by the new right-leaning Israeli government to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, an issue emerging as a main obstacle to peacemaking.

“I do not accept it,” the West-backed Abbas said. “It is not my job to give a description of the state. Name yourself the Hebrew Socialist Republic — it is none of my business.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement last week it would be impossible to make progress on the diplomatic track and reach a peace agreement without Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu said he had not made such recognition a precondition for opening peace negotiations. He has shied away from endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state, a main goal of stalled US-backed peace talks.

Palestinians fear recognition of Israel as a Jewish state could help Israeli leaders resist any return of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced to leave their homes in a 1948 war. Those concerns were heightened five years ago after then US president George W Bush described Israel as a Jewish state in a letter to its then prime minister Ariel Sharon, suggesting Palestinian refugees be settled in a future Palestine rather than in Israel.

Barack Obama’s administration has said it would vigorously pursue Palestinian statehood, setting the stage for possible conflict with Netanyahu. The Israeli leader has pledged to hold talks with the Palestinians on economic, security and diplomatic issues. Palestinian leaders have rejected any notion of an “economic peace” and said talks with Israel could not resume until he committed to statehood.

“If you do not want the two-state solution, what do you accept,” Abbas asked.

“We want a state on the 1967 borders, not a centimetre more, not a centimetre less,” he said, referring to the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, captured by Israel that year.

Netanyahu has said any Palestinian entity must have limited powers of sovereignty and not pose a danger to Israel’s security.


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