Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gained Arab League support Sunday for his refusal to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, a week before his planned meeting with US President Barack Obama.
“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.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand goes beyond the framework of the negotiations and that there was no need to accept this Israeli position.
These statements came fast on the heels of unequivocal comments by Abbas in recent days against compromising on this issue, one of Netanyahu’s key demands.
Abbas, in a speech to students Thursday broadcast on Palestinian TV and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), said: “We shall never agree to recognize the Jewish state.”
Abbas said that the “five million Palestinian refugees and their offspring” will have the option of “returning” to Israel and “holding Israeli citizenship.”
In the speech, Abbas also rejected the notion of settlement blocs.
“Our position is that the settlements – from start to finish – are illegal,” he said. “They talk about settlement blocs, or about settlements here and there, but we say that every house and every stone that were placed in the West Bank since 1967 and to this day are illegal, and we do not recognize them.”
Abbas also said that any agreement will have to be approved by all Palestinians worldwide, “from Canada to Japan.” If they say no, he said, “the proposal will not pass.”
One government official, responding to the Arab League statement and to Abbas’s recent comments, said “there will be no peace, there can be no peace, as long as the Palestinian leadership sticks to these fantasies, as long as it remains stuck in its hard-line maximalist positions.”
If the international community wants to see peace, the official said, it needs to take the Palestinians to task for its maximalist positions.
“The international community mothers the Palestinians and does not hold them responsible for what they say and do. If the [members of the] international community want to see peace, they have to realize it is a two-way street, and they need to call out the Palestinian leaders when they make hard-line statements. If not, if there is no negative feedback, then what motivation do they have to change their hardline positions.”
Channel 2, meanwhile, reported that Netanyahu directed his cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit to study the complicated model of enclaves and exclaves along a section of the Belgium-Netherlands border, as a possible model for allowing settlements to remain in place in the West Bank following an agreement.
Netanyahu said in interviews over the weekend that he would not evacuate settlements, though some of them would not remain within Israel’s permanent boundaries.
In a related development, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Abbas told him he won’t quit talks until the fourth Palestinian prisoner release at the end of the month.
Erekat said he urged Abbas to abandon the negotiations.
Israel is scheduled to release a final batch of 26 Palestinian security prisoners on March 28, the last of 104 convicted terrorists Israel took upon itself last July to set free as a way to begin negotiations with the Palestinians.
The nine-month talks are set to expire at the end of April. Diplomatic sources are expecting a frenzy of US diplomatic efforts over the next two weeks, in the hope that US Secretary of State John Kerry can present his framework paper before the prisoner release, to ensure that the release takes place and that the talks continue past their late April deadline.
Erekat said the gaps between the two sides were “still very wide.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who is opposed to the prisoner release on principle, responded to Erekat’s comments by saying there was no point in releasing the prisoners if the Palestinians were not willing to continue the talks.
“I think we should demand that the Palestinians give a clear answer before the release whether negotiations are continuing or not,” he said.
Reuters and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.