Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin
Natalyahu today underlined that peace will be possible only if
the Palestinian leadership agrees to recognise Israel as a
Jewish state, as the two sides prepared for the crucial second
round of US-backed direct talks.
Amid widening differences over the formula for peace
talks, the hardline Prime Minister warned that the recognition
as a Jewish state by the Palestinians is "fundamental" to the
success of the peace process -- a demand the Palestinians have
He told his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting
today that just as Israel and he personally had recognised the
rights of Palestinians, Israel would demand for its
recognition as the national homeland of the Jewish people.
"This is the basis for peace," he said.
Netanyahu stressed that Palestinian refusal to
acknowledge Israel`s Jewish status was obstructing progress
toward a two-state solution.
"Sadly, I have not heard the Palestinians talk of two
states for two nations. They speak of two states - but not two
nations," he emphasised.
"If we can get over the issue of mutual recognition, I
hope that next year we will be able to congratulate one
another on achieving an agreement for peace," Netanyahu said.
The `direct` talks between the two sides that kicked
off in Washington earlier this month under US mediation have
already been marred by a dispute over timetables.
Israel has called its security of paramount concern
and is pushing for an initial focus on this matter and a
formal end to the decades old conflict, but the Palestinians
have demanded debate on the core issues plaguing the conflict
right from the outset - right of return of Palestinian
refugees, borders and the status of Jerusalem, which is
claimed by both sides as their capital.
The demand, which has been repeatedly rejected by
the Palestinians, could further complicate the newly
relaunched negotiations which go into a second round in Egypt
tomorrow with the participation of US Secretary of State
The Israeli Premier told his cabinet colleagues that
he had telephoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the
weekend to congratulate him on Eid al-Fitr.
The two leaders are due to meet on Tuesday for a
second round of negotiations in the Egyptian resort city of
Sharm- el-Sheikh, which will be followed by another the next
day in Jerusalem.
The United States, which is mediating the talks, has
proposed additional summit on Israeli soil in a push to
maintain momentum, fearing constant bickering could hamper the
talks from the outset.
Besides the rift over issues to be taken up at the
start of the talks, there is also intense friction between the
two sides over an Israeli freeze on settlement construction in
the West Bank due to expire on September 26.
Abbas has repeatedly said that he will walk out of
talks if the 10-month freeze, which covers all of the West
Bank excluding East Jerusalem, is not extended.
US President Barack Obama earlier this week tried to
heal tensions by playing down the significance of the
September 26 deadline, urging the Palestinian president to
appreciate Netanyahu`s difficulty in securing even a temporary
"A major bone of contention during the course of this
month is going to be the potential lapse of the settlement
moratorium," Obama said.
He said the irony is is that when Prime Minister
Netanyahu put the moratorium in place, the Palestinians were
"It turns out, to Prime Minister Netanyahu`s credit
and to the Israeli government`s credit, the settlement
moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly
reduced settlement construction in the region," he pointed
He said it was necessary to show the Israeli public
that "you are serious and constructive in these talks so that
the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu, if he were to
extend the settlements moratorium, would be a little bit
The Israeli Prime Minister today did not refer to an
end of the settlement freeze at the beginning of the cabinet
But contrary to Netanyahu`s silence on the issue, a
number of ministers expressed their opinion on the issue of
the West Bank building moratorium.
Left of centre Labour party`s Social Affairs Minister
Isaac Herzog referred to the settlement freeze and said that
the talks scheduled for Sharm e-Sheikh "are an important
step....Brave steps need to be taken during the negotiations,
even if it means that a continuation of the settlement
In contrast, Interior Minister Eli Yishai of
right-wing Shas party claimed that "we need to face the truth
and not hide our head in the sand". "I am very skeptical. I do
not believe that the Palestinians want political
negotiations," Yishai said.
Netanyahu faces a difficult challenge on the issue of
continuing freeze over building activities with most of his
coalition partners in an overwhelmingly right-wing dominated
coalition opposing it vociferously.