The Palestinians will not give in to Israeli demands to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday, in a pointed attack against Israel during a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo.
According to Israel Radio, Abbas said that were the Palestinians to agree to this requirement, Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to Israel as part of a future agreement, and some million and a half Arab citizens of Israel would have little say in shaping the country’s affairs. Israeli Arabs have previously challenged Israel’s Jewish identity by calling for it to become a “state of all its citizens.”
Abbas said he intended to send a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlining his demands for resuming to negotiations, which included basing talks on 1967 lines, an immediate halt to construction in the settlements and east Jerusalem, and the release of Palestinian political prisoners, including those jailed during the Second Intifada.
Abbas warned that should Netanyahu refuse to negotiate based on these parameters, the Palestinians would renew their campaign to isolate Israel diplomatically and would resume unilateral efforts to seek recognition for an independent Palestinian state at U.N. institutions.
Abbas also said he would ask the Arab League to call for an international peace conference, French news agency AFP reported Sunday. Arab foreign ministers supported the request, stressing in a statement “the importance of holding an international peace conference on the Palestinian issue.”
Such a meeting would seek “an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories and to reach a comprehensive solution to the issues of borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees based on the Arab peace initiative.”
Abbas has been under increasing international pressure to resume talks that began last month in Jordan, the first direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians since talks broke down in September 2010. The Amman talks broke down as well, with each side blaming the other for the failure to get negotiations off the ground.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the region late last month to convince both sides to continue “exploratory talks” that began in Amman. Ban had urged Israel to halt settlement activity and offer the Palestinians a “goodwill gesture” to jump-start the stalled talks. However, Netanyahu said he considers settlements an issue to be discussed during negotiations, not before.
Netanyahu on Sunday responded to Abbas’ remarks, saying in a statement: “Instead of entering into negotiations that will lead to an end to the conflict, Abbas prefers to join forces with the Hamas terrorist organization, the same Hamas that is embracing Iran.”
In Cairo, the Palestinian Authority president also spoke about the reconciliation agreement he signed recently with Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar, according to which Abbas will head a caretaker government that will usher in presidential and parliamentary elections in the territories. Abbas said that once an interim government was formed under his leadership, elections would be held within three months, probably in May or June.
Netanyahu was quick to condemn the Doha deal last week, telling Abbas, “It’s either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can’t have it both ways.”
“Hamas is a terrorist organization that strives to destroy Israel, and that is supported by Iran,” Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting last week. “I have said many times in the past that the Palestinian Authority must choose between an alliance with Hamas and peace with Israel. Hamas and peace do not go together.”
Meanwhile, a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday said that Netanyahu had in fact approved goodwill gestures to the Palestinians, but the agreement between Fatah-Hamas had led to a renewed standstill in the peace process.
“Every time we make progress with [Abbas], he runs away,” the official said. “When we become more flexible, he torpedoes the negotiations. When it comes time to make decisions, he issues preconditions.“
According to the official, Netanyahu had agreed to approve the incentives following a request made by Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair. The gestures included the advancement of construction in the new Palestinian city of Rawabi, and were meant to ensure continued negotiations with the Palestinians through the end of 2012, with the ultimate goal being a final agreement based on the Quartet’s framework.
Meanwhile, an official from the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu plans to visit the U.S. next month for the annual AIPAC conference, where Netanyahu is set to deliver an address.
The visit comes against the backdrop of deadlocked Israel-Palestinian peace talks and growing international concern that Israel could launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear program. It was not immediately clear whether Netanyahu would meet U.S. President Obama during his visit.