The Palestinian Authority has rejected Israel’s suggestion that it recognize
Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a renewal of the settlement
construction moratorium, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said on
“The idea was simple,” one official said. “If they could move on
an issue important to us, then the prime minister would feel confident and ask
the cabinet for a moratorium extension.”
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The official’s comments,
revealing the focus of intensive US-Israeli discussions over the past few weeks
to keep the direct talks alive, came after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
announced at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session on Monday that he would
ask for a settlement moratorium extension if the PA would unequivocally
recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Palestinians quickly rebuffed the idea, with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat saying
the PA “forcefully rejects all these Israeli games. The racist demands of
Netanyahu cannot be tied to the request to cease building in the settlements for
the purpose of establishing a state.”
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, was not much more forthcoming, saying that for the
Palestinians all the settlements were illegal, and their construction should be
frozen so peace talks could continue.
“As for the issue of Israel’s
Jewishness, we have nothing to do with this matter,” Abu Rudaineh said, adding
that the Palestinians went to the peace talks with Israel on the basis of mutual
recognition between Israel and the PLO.
“This is the Palestinian position
on the basis of which the peace process was launched,” he
Netanyahu, in his Knesset speech, said that despite the negative
Palestinian response, the US was “attempting other means to ensure that the
talks take place. The United States has made various suggestions, and we are
seriously and responsibly considering them, in accordance with Israel’s national
interests, first and foremost security.”
The Obama administration has
reportedly offered Israel a basket of security and political “incentives” in
exchange for a limited renewal of the moratorium.
Earlier in the day,
during a discussion on the settlement issue in the Likud’s Knesset faction,
Netanyahu was quoted as saying that it was important to be
“We also have other interests,” the prime minister said.
“There are other things that are no less important to us than
During his Knesset speech, Netanyahu finally shined some
light on the nature of the intensive discussions that have been taking place for
nearly a month to overcome the settlement moratorium impasse. The 10-month
moratorium ended on September 26.
“During the past several weeks, I have
explored every path to ensuring the continuation of the talks,” Netanyahu
declared, saying he was looking for something to convince the government and the
country that the Palestinians “are truly ready to live with us in
“There is one thing,” he continued. “I transmitted the message
through quiet channels during the past month, and I am now saying it here,
publicly: If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people
that it recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will be
ready to convene my government and ask for another suspension of construction
for a fixed period.
Because the Palestinians expect us to recognize the
Palestinian state as their nationstate, we can expect them to recognize the
Jewish state as our nation-state.”
Netanyahu did not spell out how long a
period he had in mind, nor the manner in which he expected the Palestinian
leadership to offer their recognition. One idea that has been discussed was for
Abbas to deliver a speech in Arabic recognizing Israel as the nation-state of
the Jewish people, just as Netanyahu delivered his Bar-Ilan speech in Hebrew
last year declaring acceptance of a two-state solution.
“There is no
doubt that such a move by the Palestinian Authority would serve as a confidence-
building step, one that would open up a new horizon of hope and trust among
broad sections of the Israel public who, in light of the events of the past
decade, have lost their confidence in the Palestinians’ desire to end the
conflict,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said he hoped that the
Palestinian decision not to renew the talks without a renewal of the moratorium
was not taken to “avoid making the real decisions necessary for a peace
Netanyahu, who was interrupted by opposition MKs some 20
times during his roughly 30-minute speech, said that not only Israel, but also
the Palestinians, will “have to make difficult decisions.” He said that for
compromise to lead to peace, and not more war, it must be accompanied by two
fundamental components: recognition and security arrangements.
for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, he said, was not just
“stubbornness,” but rather the “root of the conflict and therefore a central
foundation for resolving it. For 100 years, the Palestinians have taught entire
generations to believe that there is no Jewish people, that this land is their
Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said in response to
the Palestinian rebuff to Netanyahu’s proposal that eventually a peace agreement
would require Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy.
“If they do
it now, this would energize the process and move it ahead much more speedily to
tackle the other issues,” Regev said. “This process will not succeed if the
expectation is that the Palestinians make the demands, and Israel makes the
It will only work if it is a two-way street where there is
give and take, and flexibility is exercised on both sides.”Khaled Abu
Toameh contributed to this report.