Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with George Mitchell
Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with George Mitchell
(Amos Ben-Gershom for the Israeli Government Press Office, April 16, 2009).
1. The Israeli media have reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told George Mitchell , the American envoy to the Middle East, that the Palestinian Authority had to recognize Israel as a Jewish state before a discussion of the two-state solution (Israeli Radio Channel 2, IDF Radio, April 17, 2009). The prime minister’s office made it clear that "the prime minister has never set that as a pre-condition for the opening of negotiations and dialogue with the Palestinians” (Prime Minister’s office, April 20, 2009 ). After meeting with Mitchell on April 16, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel expected an unequivocal commitment from the international community regarding not only issues of security but regarding Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people (Israeli Foreign Ministry website).
2. After meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman, George Mitchell said he had "reiterated to the foreign minister that U.S. policy favors, with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a two-state solution which will have a Palestinian state living in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel ” [emphasis ITIC] (Reuters from Jerusalem, April 16, 2009).
3. In response, spokesmen for the Palestinian Authority vehemently rejected the recognition of Israel as Jewish state, as they had also done at the Annapolis meeting . They claimed that the Israeli demand was meant to make it possible for Israel to reject the two-state solution and not honor previously-signed agreements. Saeb Erekat claimed that the United States and other countries refrained from recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, ignoring unequivocal American statements which do recognize Israel as a Jewish state (President Bush’s speech at Annapolis, 1 Mitchell’s statement quoted above).
Palestinian Authority responses to statements made by
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
4. Saeb Erekat , chief PLO negotiator team, told a press conference that Mahmoud Abbas had met with Mitchell on April 17 and stressed the importance of the principle of the two-state solution and the PA’s commitment to it (Palestinian Television, April 17, 2009 ). However, in other interviews with the media Saeb Erekat rejected out of hand the [so called] approach of Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state before entering into negotiations for a Palestinian state. He also said that the Palestinian claims are based on previous agreements of Israel as a "state,” but, he said, "what Netanyahu is demanding now – that we recognize Israel ‘s religious background – is unacceptable .” He also claimed that Netanyahu’s statements made it clear that the government of Israel opposed the two-state solution and rejected previously-signed agreements (Saeb Erekat interviewed by the AKI news agency, Ramallah, April 16, 2009 ).
5. Interviewed by Al-Jazeera TV, Saeb Erekat said that the issue of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state before conducting negotiations was " absolutely unacceptable .” He claimed (contrary to fact) that the United States , since the Truman administration, and other countries, recognized Israel as "the State of Israel” and not as "a Jewish state.” He said that Netanyahu’s proposal was nothing more than a new way of rejecting the two-state principle and previously-signed agreements. He added that the ball was now in the American court and that "it is the first test of the Obama administration…” (Al-Jazeera TV, April 16, 2009 ).
6. Nabil Abu Rudeina , Palestinian Authority presidential spokesman, claimed that the new Israeli government had already begun posing obstacles to the two-state solution based on international legitimacy, the road map, the Arab peace initiative and the understandings reached during the Annapolis meeting (ignoring the fact that at Annapolis President Bush made it clear that the United States recognizes Israel as a Jewish state). He said it was a "challenge” for international efforts and the international community, especially the United States, which had to "take care of” Israeli policy "out of the fear of its destructive implications for the entire region” (Wafa News Agency, Ramallah, April 16, 2009).
Fundamental disagreements concerning the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people during the Annapolis process
7. The Palestinian Authority’s intense objection to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, expressed with the formation of the new Israeli government, is not new . The issue of the two-state solution was a subject of dispute during the contacts held by the Israeli and PA negotiating teams when they tried to forge a joint document which would be ratified at the Annapolis meeting. The Israeli side insisted that the stating point would be Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, while the Palestinians utterly rejected the demand. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, along with fundamental disagreements over other core issues, were obstacles to formulating a joint Israeli-Palestinian document. Both sides were forced to make do with a vague "joint understanding,” which did not relate to the disputed issues.
8. The following statements about the Annapolis meeting were made by Palestinian Authority spokesmen:
i) Abu Alaa’ , head of the Palestinian negotiating team, meeting with the heads of the Palestinian security services, said that the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state was "unacceptable.” He added that the Palestinian side was completely opposed to a population exchange "inside” [i.e., within the State of Israel] and refused to relinquish the [so called] Palestinian refugees’ right to return, according to UN Resolution 194 (Wafa News Agency, November 14, 2007 ).
ii) Saeb Erekat , a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said of Prime Minister Olmert’s demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state, that Israel wanted "something new.” He said that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state could not even be discussed internationally . He again said that "it is not part of the agenda of the international community, the Palestinians or their leadership” (Voice of Palestine Radio, November 13, 2007 ).
iii) Yasser Abd Rabbo , secretary of the PLO’s executive committee, said that Olmert’s demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state meant imposing ideological conditions to fan the flames of the conflict and lead to escalation. He added that "peace is decided between two countries or sides, and it is not Israel ‘s business, or the Palestinians’ business, to enter into discussions about international legitimacy and the basics of the peace process” (Voice of Palestine Radio, November 13, 2007 ).
9. During the Annapolis meeting, despite the positive atmosphere and Arab and international support, there were still fundamental discrepancies between Israel and the Palestinian Authority concerning the issues to be negotiated, one of which was the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. After the Annapolis meeting, Mahmoud Abbas seemed satisfied during interviews he gave to the Arab and Western media. However, when he and his aides were asked about recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, an issue raised in a speech by Ehud Olmert during the meeting, 2their responses were uniformly negative :
i) Mahmoud Abbas said that "there is the two-state idea – Palestine and Israel – and we, the Palestinians, do not have to give titles to any country …” He added that the Israeli population was Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and that there were other ethnic groups living there as well (Agence France Presse, November 29, 2009 ).
ii) As to the question of Israel as a Jewish state, Mahmoud Abbas said: "We oppose that appellation and we say that there is Israel and there is Palestine . There are both Jews and non-Jews [living] in Israel ” (Agence France Presse, December 1, 2007 ).
iii) Nabil Abu Rudeina , Palestinian Authority presidential spokesman, said that the Palestinians had not agreed to a joint document because the Israelis raised an issue which was unacceptable for them: " They [the Israelis] insist that the state is Jewish, and we did not accept that at all . Their have their reservations about the Arab peace initiative…” Therefore, he said, the joint document was replaced by a joint understanding, which was read by President Bush (Radio Sawt Al-Arab, November 28, 2009 ).
1 On November 27, 2007 , President Bush said "the United States will keep its commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people ” [emphasis ITIC] (White House website).
2 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the negotiation would be crowned by achieving President Bush’s vision of the two-state solution: A Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, Jewish and democratic, living in security, the home of the Jewish people [ITIC emphasis] (Israeli Prime Minister’s website, November 28, 2009).