Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not a partner with whom Israel can reach the type of peace deal that would end the conflict, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Saturday night.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] is a partner that takes but doesn’t give. He is not a partner for a permanent-status agreement in which at the end there is recognition of the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people,” he told Channel 2.
Ya’alon spoke in advance of Abbas’s meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, in which the Palestinian and American leaders are expected to discuss the core issues of the conflict. Obama met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the White House earlier this month.
Among the more vocal Palestinian disagreements with Israel is Abbas’s rejection of Netanyahu’s demand for the PLO to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told members of Congress on Thursday that international law already defines Israel as a Jewish state, and called Netanyahu’s insistence on a public declaration of Israel’s Jewish character from the Palestinians “a mistake.”
“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a [Palestinian] state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry told the House of Representative’s Foreign Relations Committee, in a hearing on budget matters.
“[The] ‘Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in [UN General Assembly partition] Resolution 181 where there are more than 40-30 mentions of ‘Jewish state,’” Kerry said.
“In addition, [PLO] chairman [Yasser] Arafat in 1988 and again in 2004 confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state. And there are any other number of mentions,” he said.
But Ya’alon said that Abbas has persistently refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and it is this refusal that makes it impossible to arrive at a final-peace deal.
“If it’s not a problem, why can’t Abbas say it,” Ya’alon said. If Abbas can’t say this, “then there won’t be an agreement.”
Ya’alon said that he agreed with Netanyahu on this score.
The defense minister said that initially he had supported the 1993 Oslo Accord and today as well, he believes that human life is more important than land.
But, Ya’alon said, he withdrew his support of Oslo and changed his attitude toward the peace process when he understood that land could not be traded for peace in this conflict because the battle was larger than just Judea and Samaria.
“This is a conflict about all of Palestine, all of the Land of Israel,” he said.
“They [the Palestinians] don’t recognize our right to exist here. That is why they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This is the decisive position of the prime minister. We won’t be able to reach an agreement with the Palestinians without [their] recognition [of Israel] as a Jewish state,” Ya’alon said.
The young generation of Palestinians is still being taught to eliminate Israel, he said.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and all that happened is that Hamas took over, Ya’alon said.
If Israel left Judea and Samaria, “Hamas would rule the area and Abbas would become irrelevant,” Ya’alon warned.
Abbas only has the power to rule in the West Bank because he has Israel’s support, he said.
The defense minister clarified that Israel had not promised the Americans it would release Israeli Arabs in the fourth and final prisoner release it agreed to in order to get the PLO to return to the negotiating table, in which 26 Palestinians involved in terrorist attacks are expected to be freed from Israeli jails, possibly at the end of this month.
“He [Kerry] knows that we did not promise to release Israeli Arabs,” Ya’alon said.
Channel 2 asked Ya’alon: “Is John Kerry an honest broker?” The answer to this could only be determined at the end of the process, Ya’alon said.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Friday, State Department official followed up on Kerry’s comments on Palestinian recognition of Israel, noting that the US has repeatedly reaffirmed Israel’s status as a Jewish state.
“The United States’ position that Israel is the Jewish state has been clear for years and has been consistently made clear by the president and secretary,” the official said. “Secretary Kerry repeated this again yesterday to Congress.”
Meanwhile, a senior congressional aide emphasized that Kerry did not specifically name Netanyahu during his testimony to the House committee on Thursday.
Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the US State Department, addressed the issue in a briefing to reporters in Washington, explaining that Kerry and Obama have repeatedly stated that America recognizes that Israel is a Jewish state.
“Our position on the Jewish state issue is very clear,” she said.
Netanyahu is the first prime minister to consider the condition a requisite for peace. He emphasized that condition several times during his visit to Washington last week.
Harf declined to comment on how the issue would be handled in the framework agreement that the US is drafting, nor did she provide a date for the document’s publication.
“We’ve said we’re working toward a framework. I don’t have any crystal ball to look into about when that might get done. Obviously we want it to get done as soon as possible, but no predictions on when,” she said.
As for the gaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the core issues that would be addressed in the framework document, Harf said: “We’re making progress and want to keep making progress until we get a framework, and just want to see the process continue moving forward.”