RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Monday refused to accept Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
“A Jewish state, what is that supposed to mean?” Abbas asked in a speech in the West Bank’s political capital of Ramallah. “You can call yourselves as you like, but I don’t accept it and I say so publicly.”
Abbas said the topic was “extensively discussed” and rejected by the Palestinians during a November 2007 international conference in Annapolis, near Washington, during which the two sides relaunched peace negotiations.
Netanyahu has demanded the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state as part of an eventual peace deal.
Such a move would amount to an effective renunciation of the right of return of refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when Israel was created, a cherished principle of the Palestinians.
Abbas also criticised Israel’s firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said the new cabinet was not bound by the previous government’s decision taken at Annapolis to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians.
“Lieberman is in a class by himself. He has yet to learn the art of politics and he has not yet practised politics enough. He is an adversary, he has come to say ‘no’ and ‘I reject’ and every chance he gets he comes up with a new refrain,” he said.
On the latest round of Palestinian reconciliation talks which opened on Monday in Cairo, Abbas said if the parties managed to form a unity government, that cabinet would have to abide by past Israeli-Palestinian accords.
“It is the government and its members that should respect such deals and not movements,” Abbas said.
He was referring to the Hamas movement ruling Gaza whose refusal to recognise past deals, to renounce violence and to recognise Israel has prompted the West to blacklist the Islamist group as a terror outfit.
Should the Palestinians form a unity government, the cabinet’s top priority will be reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli military carried out a devastating 22-day offensive in December-January.
Another priority will be preparing for combined presidential and parliamentary elections “before January 24, 2010,” the date when the mandate of the current legislature dominated by Hamas expires, Abbas said.
His secular Fatah party and the Hamas movement have been at odds since June 2007 when the Islamists booted their rivals from the Gaza Strip after a week of deadly fighting.