Top Palestinian Negotiator Rejects Israel As 'Jewish State'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority says the Palestinians would not recognize Israel as a Jewish State.

"There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined," Saeb Erekat was quoted as telling Radio Palestine on Monday.

(According to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said on Sunday that immediately after the Annapolis conference, Israel would demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" as a precondition for Israel recognizing a Palestinian State.)

The Palestinians claim that they cannot accept a Jewish state because it would discriminate against minorities, primarily the Arab minority.

But Palestinian expert Dr. Hillel Frisch of the BESA Institute for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv said it is ironic that the Palestinians would make such a claim.

The Palestinian constitution itself names Islam as the official religion, and the constitutions of many Arab countries say only a Muslim can become president, Frisch told Cybercast News Service.

"They don't have a leg to stand on," he said, referring to Erekat's comment.

According to Frisch, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made a grave mistake in his negotiations with the Palestinians when he failed to insist that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. (Rabin was the first Israeli leader to sign an agreement with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said like it or not Israel is in fact a Jewish, democratic state. "All countries that have diplomatic relations [with Israel] recognize Israel as a Jewish state," she said.

Every document that the Palestinians sign is with Israel, the Jewish state, she added, regardless of whether the Palestinians say they recognize Israel as such.

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to divide what had been British Mandatory Palestine into two states: a Jewish State and an Arab state.

The Jewish community accepted the resolution and declared the State of Israel independent in May 1948. The Arab League and Arab Higher Committee rejected the resolution and attacked the nascent state.

In his radio interview, Erekat also said that in any final deal between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinians would demand in writing that all Palestinian prisoners be released from Israeli prisons.

Olmert told government ministers on Monday that he was considering releasing several hundred Palestinian security prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of the Annapolis meeting. The Palestinians reportedly are demanding the release of 2,000.

Eisin said that a prisoner release is under consideration and that the prime minister wants to make a series of gestures ahead of the meeting, which might include the removal of West Bank roadblocks and easing travel restrictions for Palestinians.

In related news, at least six Palestinians were reported killed and 85 wounded in inter-Palestinian fighting in the Gaza Strip on Monday.

Trouble erupted when Hamas gunmen opened fire on supporters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as they were marking the third anniversary of former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's death.

Wire reports said many thousands of Fatah supporters had joined the rally, which was the largest show of strength by the Fatah movement since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

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