Israel, Palestinians lock horns over `the Jewish state`

Israel`s Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday proposed a new settlements freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland, in a move swiftly dismissed by the Palestinians.

Updated: Oct 11, 2010, 23:23 PM IST

Jerusalem: Israel`s Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday proposed a new settlements freeze in exchange for
Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland, in a
move swiftly dismissed by the Palestinians.

In a speech to MPs at the opening of the winter
session of parliament, Netanyahu spelled out his price for a
renewal of the settlements freeze, which is seen as key to
salvaging direct peace talks which began just a month ago.

"If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say
to its people that it recognises Israel as the national state
of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my cabinet
and ask for another moratorium on building," he said.

"I have already passed on the message through quiet
channels and I am now saying it in public," he said in a live
televised address.

But his offer was immediately rejected by the
Palestinians, with chief negotiator Saeb Erakat telling AFP
the issue was completely unrelated to the crisis in the peace
talks.

"This order has nothing to do with the peace process
or with the obligations that Israel has not implemented,"
Erakat told AFP by phone from Amman, Jordan. "This is
completely rejected."

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians
began on September 2 but ground to a halt two weeks ago after
the expiry of a partial 10-month moratorium on Jewish
settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Despite huge diplomatic pressure to reimpose the
freeze, Netanyahu has refused to do so, instead urging the
Palestinians not to abandon the talks.

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has never been
one of the core issues for resolving the conflict, but since
Netanyahu came to power in 2009, it has become one of his key
demands in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

"What could convince the government, and more so the
citizens of Israel, that the Palestinians are truly ready to
live with us in peace?"

"Something that would signal a real change on the
Palestinian side?" Netanyahu asked, saying that such a step
would be taken as proof of the Palestinians` genuine
intentions towards Israel.

The Palestinians formally recognised Israel as a state
on the eve of the 1993 Oslo Accords, but have rejected the
demand to recognise its Jewish character because that would
amount to an effective renunciation of their cherished right
of return for refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Earlier, the Israeli government endorsed a bill
requiring that a national referendum be held before any
withdrawal from occupied east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights,
the justice ministry said.

PTI