Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official and adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has come under attack for expressing his willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
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Abed Rabbo was quoted as saying on Wednesday that the Palestinians would be willing to recognize Israel in any way that it desires, if the US administration and Israeli government recognized the pre-1967 lines as the borders of a future Palestinian state.
The top PLO official was responding to US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley’s announcement that the Palestinians should respond to the Israeli demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in return for a renewed moratorium on settlement construction.
Abed Rabbo’s remarks were interpreted by many Palestinians as recognition of Israel as a Jewish state – a position that contradicts the official PA policy.
A number of Palestinians factions, including the ruling Fatah movement in the West Bank, strongly condemned Abed Rabbo and called for his dismissal.
Abed Rabbo, meanwhile, denied later that he had told Haaretz that the Palestinians would be willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
However, he stressed that the Palestinians did not rule out the possibility, but “only if the US administration would give us a clear map showing the borders of Israel so that we could recognize it.”
Abed Rabbo added that in return for meeting Israel’s demand, the Israelis and Americans should recognize a Palestinian state that would be established on all the territory in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip captured by Israel in 1967, including the eastern part of Jerusalem.
“In such an event, we would have no problem recognizing Israel in any form it desires – as a Jewish or Chinese state,” he said. “The Palestinians have already recognized Israel’s existence, but until now Israel has not recognized a Palestinian state. This means that we want guarantees that the future Palestinian state would be established on all the 1967 territories.”
Abed Rabbo’s statements drew sharp criticism from Palestinians across the political spectrum.
Fatah was one of the first groups to launch a scathing attack on the PLO official.
“The statements made by Abed Rabbo regarding the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state don’t represent the position of Fatah or the Palestinian people,” said Amin Maqboul, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. “Abed Rabbo represents only himself.” Maqboul reiterated Fatah’s refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state.
Jamal Muhaisen, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that it was “impossible” for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“No Palestinian could ever accept such a demand, no matter where he is and what job he holds,” he said. “This recognition would scrap the right of return for the Palestinian refugees and endanger the status of the Palestinians living in the territories that were occupied in 1948.”
The Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine pointed out that Abed Rabbo’s statements contradicted the official policy of the PA and the PLO, and urged all Palestinians to “hold him accountable.” The group accused Abed Rabbo of endorsing a “defeatist and irresponsible” approach.
Hassan Khraisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, denounced Abed Rabbo’s remarks as “dangerous,” and said they reflected a state of defeat and helplessness.
“By saying he will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abed Rabbo has crossed all red lines,” Khraisheh said. “These remarks harm the right of return and our people in the territories occupied in 1948.”
Hamas called for bringing the PLO official to trial for high treason as a “criminal who has betrayed the rights of the Palestinians and the blood of our martyrs.”
Abed Rabbo was being pummeled for statements that received a lukewarm reception in Jerusalem. Although the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to his comments, one diplomatic official said Jerusalem was looking for a clear, formal, unequivocal statement from Abbas.
The official said that Abed Rabbo’s comment about recognizing Israel in any way it desires was too similar to flippant remarks made recently by Abbas that as far as he was concerned, Israel could call itself the “Jewish- Zionist empire.
And even as Abed Rabbo was coming under criticism for these comments, a security cabinet member said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a tactical error in not extending the settlement construction moratorium. Had he done so, the official said, he would have been credited by US President Barack Obama for delaying until after the November 2 US midterm elections the possible breakdown of the talks.
Now, the minister said, it was the Arab League – which on Friday ensured that the issue would not come to a head until after the elections by giving the US another month to find a solution – that would gain points in Washington. The minister also expressed concern that after the elections the US would not suffice with a mere two-month renewal, but would ask for a longer construction moratorium.
In a related development, Israeli officials made clear to European statesmen who were in Jerusalem this week – including the foreign ministers of France, Spain and Finland, and the Finnish president – that EU comments on the settlement moratorium issue were leading the Palestinians to harden their positions on the matter.
The Europeans were told that by stressing in public statements that Israel should extend the freeze, and not in the same breath – as the US was doing – also calling on the Palestinians to remain in the talks regardless, they were supporting Abbas’s position to bolt the talks if the moratorium was not renewed.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday she remains
“committed and hopeful” the Israelis and Palestinians will return to
direct talks and begin to address the core issues that divide them.
She characterized the recent exchange of tough bargaining positions and
heated Palestinian rhetoric as both sides “testing out a lot of
different approaches, offers, requests, between each other.”
She stressed that “The United States remains deeply involved in working
with both parties” and said she is “personally convinced that both
leaders – Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas – very much see
it as in their respective interest to return to and proceed with direct
negotiations.”Gil Hoffman and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.