Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has called on Palestinian leaders to recognise his country as a “Jewish state”, a call a top Palestinian official said was an “official announcement of a unilateral end to negotiations”.
In his address to the annual policy conference of the pro-Israeli lobbyist group AIPAC in Washington DC on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he was prepared to make an “historic peace”, but not without a Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish state.
“It’s time the Palestinians stopped denying history,” he said, returning to a major point of disagreement in US-led negotiations, which have struggled to make headway ahead of an April deadline.
If we reach an agreement with the Palestinians, I don't delude myself. That peace will most certainly come under constant attack by Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda and others.
“Just as Israel is prepared to recognise a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognise a Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.
Israel has repeatedly insisted there will be no peace deal without addressing the issue of recognition, but the Palestinians have rejected the demand, which they say will deny their historical narrative and compromise the right of return for their refugees.
The Israeli prime minister directly appealed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to recognise Israel and to “abandon the fantasy” of flooding Israel with refugees.
“President Abbas: recognise the Jewish state and in doing so, you would be telling your people… to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees,” Netanyahu said.
“In recognising the Jewish state you would make clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict.”
Responding to the comments, Fatah central committee member Nabil Shaath told AFP news agency that Netanyahu’s repeated demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state and his rejection of Palestinian demands on refugees and international peacekeepers were “totally rejected”.
Shaath said Netanyahu’s comments, which he has made repeatedly in the past, “contravene all the rules of the peace negotiations agreed with the Americans”.
Netanyahu also alluded to Israel’s demand to retain a military presence along the Jordan Valley, which runs down the eastern flank of the occupied West Bank, in any future deal saying he would not cede security to foreign peacekeepers.
“If we reach an agreement with the Palestinians, I don’t delude myself. That peace will most certainly come under constant attack by Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda and others,” he said
Israel and the Palestinians have been engaged in seven months of direct peace talks which were convened with an end of April deadline.
In a meeting at the White House on Monday, US President Barack Obama told Netanyahu that Israel needed to take tough decisions if the talks were to have a future. Abbas is to visit Obama on March 17.