The Arab League has rejected demands that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, saying the move undermines refugee rights. The League also blamed Israel for the floundering of peace negotiations.
In a seven-page resolution at Arab League headquarters in Cairo, assembled foreign ministers called the issue of Palestinian refugees an integral part of a comprehensive and just peace. The statement also offers strong backing to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who said publicly last week that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state despite facing strong international pressure, though he did not identify who had pressured him.
The resolution rejects "the demand by Israel and some international parties to identify Israel as a Jewish state, which aims to annul the right of return and compensation for Palestinian refugees." The statement also calls for efforts to convene an international conference to address the issue, and a re-evaluation of the role of the mediators known as the Quartet (The United Nations, European Union, US and Russian) in light of their "failure to make any achievement in realizing just and comprehensive peace."
Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel's first prime minister to make recognition of the country as a Jewish state a requirement for talks. That became the latest sign that, despite seven months of mediation efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry, wide gaps remain between the two sides.
"In recognizing the Jewish state you would finally make clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict," Netanyahu said on Tuesday, indirectly addressing Palestinians while speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "So recognize the Jewish state, no excuses, no delays," he added. "It is time."
Abbas will meet US President Barack Obama in Washington on March 17 as part of the talks, which began last summer. He has called the Palestine Liberation Organization's 1993 recognition of the state of Israel sufficient. Many fear that the new label would lead to discrimination against Israel's sizeable Arab minority.
On Saturday, Abbas also complained that Netanyahu had asked for something not demanded of Arab countries that had previously signed peace treaties with Israel.
"We recognized Israel in mutual recognition in the Oslo agreement - why do they now ask us to recognize the Jewishness of the state?" Abbas said. "Why didn't they present this demand to Jordan or Egypt when they signed a peace agreement with them?" Abbas added.
During the opening session of the meeting, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby urged countries to take a "firm stand" against Israel's demand, calling it outside the agreed-upon framework for peace talks. Elaraby described the demand as an attempt to foil the talks and called for a re-evaluation of the negotiation track.
"This is a deviation from the international resolutions agreed upon as a basis for the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, which requires a firm Arab stand to ... re-evaluate the negotiation track as a whole, and to strongly express definite Arab rejection of this serious turn," Elaraby said.
The current round of talks between Israelis and Palestinians have seen much disagreement between Abbas and Netanyahu on the ground rules. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 war, and say talks about their future country should use the pre-conflict border as a starting point. The US backs that position; Netanyahu rejects it.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AP)