Erekat: We won't accept Jewish Israel

Olmert tells FADC that Annapolis conference will last one day; says he plans to free 400 more prisoners.

Prisoners 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Prisoners 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday rejected Israel's demand that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. "There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined," Erekat told Radio Palestine. Additionally, Erekat said, when agreements are signed, the Palestinians would demand that Israel make a commitment in writing to releasing all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said in response that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists that the Palestinians recognize Israel's Jewish identity, as a condition for Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state. The official added that Israel would not commit to releasing Palestinian prisoners outside the framework of doing so as a gesture of goodwill towards the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Olmert told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the peace conference scheduled to take place in Annapolis in late November would last for a single day. The conference, the prime minister said, would serve to launch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and be a one-time event geared towards gaining international support for the talks. The prime minister also said that he planned to release approximately 400 prisoners, out of a total of more than 12,000 held in Israel. The additional prisoner release, a gesture of goodwill to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was already discussed several weeks ago, when 120 prisoners were freed. Olmert also said Israel would continue to negotiate with Abbas even if terrorists continue to fire rockets at southern Israel from Gaza, committee member and Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said. In response to the prime minister's announcement, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu said that the government was "giving everything" and in exchange was "getting terrorists." After a meeting with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Netanyahu said: "The Olmert government is repeating the mistakes made by the Barak government at Camp David. Then, they gave everything but all they got in return were terrorists and suicide bombers. Now, the government of Olmert, Barak and Livni is behaving in the same way." "This is not a path to peace, it is a path to terror," added the Likud chairman. Netanyahu met the Shas spiritual leader with Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar in Yosef's Jerusalem residence and the two Likud men spoke of the dangers of the Annapolis conference. Yosef said he would consider the Likud chairman's view seriously. Meanwhile, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the idea of releasing prisoners is "totally unacceptable." "Every prisoner release since Oslo, from 1993 until today, failed completely. It did not serve its purpose, neither before Oslo nor after Oslo." Also Monday, the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper reported that senior Fatah figure Muhammad Dahlan would attend the conference, in accordance with the request of the Palestinians. In other news Monday, dozens of prominent Palestinian residents of Jerusalem published an appeal to the Abbas, asking him not to make concessions to Israel over the holy city in upcoming negotiations. The ad, signed by 108 prominent Jerusalemites, including top Christian and Muslim leaders, did not make specific demands. However, the signatories asked Abbas not to negotiate a deal that would "violate our national rights." Meanwhile, Abbas's political advisor Ahmed Abdel Rahman said that "difficulties are piling up in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations because Israel is taking uncompromising positions and is not fulfilling its obligations to the road map." Rahman told the Saudi newspaper Al Okaz that the two sides were having difficulties reaching an agreement on the declaration of principles to be presented at Annapolis. The Abbas aide added that Israel was refusing to withdraw from territories it had re-conquered after the outbreak of the September 2000 intifada and was refusing to halt settlement construction and improve the Palestinians' humanitarian conditions. He also blamed Israel for refusing to commit to a timetable for completing negotiations and establishing a Palestinian state. Rahman urged the Arab world to back the Palestinian stance and demand that the US and Europe pressure Israel to honor its commitments. A Palestinian survey conducted by the Al-Quds Information Center showed that 62 percent of Palestinians believe the Annapolis parley will fail, while 35.3% think it will succeed. The survey also showed that 47% believe the failure of the conference will not have any repercussions while 28% said it will lead to a third intifada. Also according to the poll, 52.9% believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved if Jerusalem becomes a Muslim city while 26% believe east Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine and west Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Ten percent said they thought the city should be the joint capital of both nations and 7.4% said the capital should be under international control.