Middle East News
Olmert: Palestinians must recognize Israel as Jewish state (Roundup)
Nov 12, 2007, 14:28 GMT
Jerusalem - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday he wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a 'state for the Jewish people,' prior to reviving long-stalled peace negotiations.
'I have no doubt that Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad are committed to agreements and want to make peace with Israel as a Jewish state,' Olmert told an Israeli parliamentary committee on security, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by his nom de guerre, and to his acting prime minister.
It appears Olmert wants the joint declaration he and Abbas plan to present at a US-hosted Middle East conference to express such recognition, by stating commitment to 'two states living side by side in peace and security, Israel for the Jewish and Palestine for the Palestinian people.'
The conference is expected to take place in Annapolis, Maryland later this month.
Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, would not comment on the negotiations over the content of the joint declaration to be presented there.
But she told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that 'it is not a question of a condition. It is not even a pre-condition. It is a given. They have to recognize a two-state solution with Israel as a Jewish state.'
The Palestinian Authority (PA), however, rejected the demand, with senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat telling Voice of Palestine Radio that 'there is no country that defines its national identity by its religion.'
'Why should I recognize the religion of the state of Israel? What kind of logic is this?' he asked rhetorically. 'This kind of talk cannot be found in any kind of international relations.'
The latest spat came after the sides are already at odds over Palestinian demands that their joint declaration in Annapolis should include a deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and also address all of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Jerusalem, borders and refugees.
But Abbas, in a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week, had spoken of 'progress' in the bumpy talks preparing for the conference. He struck a positive note after Olmert pledged in an address Sunday last week to strive for 'real accomplishments' before the end of US President George W Bush's term in office in January 2009, and Rice echoed him in a similar remark.
Olmert and Rice's statements indicated a compromise on a verbal, non-committal timetable for peace negotiations, which the sides pledged to revive after Annapolis.
'Immediately after the meeting, the sides intend to conduct serious and intensive negotiations in order to achieve the vision of two states for two people,' Israeli media quoted Olmert as reiterating Monday.
The conference, he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, could be a 'public launching' of these negotiations.
Eisin denied Olmert said the conference would last one day only.
She confirmed Israeli media reports that Olmert was planning to free more Palestinian militants from Israeli jails, but said any numbers cited were 'speculation.'
In another point of dispute, Israel also insists that implementation of any agreement be conditional on implementation of the first phase of the 2003 'road map' peace plan, which, among other things, demands the Palestinians confront militants and Israel uproots settlers' outposts before moving on to final peace negotiations.
But Olmert claimed the Palestinians had accepted this demand.
'There is unequivocal agreement that the entire agreement will be linked to fulfilling the road map,' he said.
Israeli soldiers meanwhile arrested two Palestinian lawmakers from Hamas, the Islamic movement and the Israeli military said.
They said military units raided the homes of Khaled Tafesh, in Bethlehem, and Mariam Saleh, in Ramallah overnight.
Saleh is a former minister and the first female Hamas member of parliament Israel has arrested since it started its campaign against the Islamic movement's West Bank members in June last year following the capture of an Israeli soldier in a Hamas-led cross-border raid from Gaza.
Israel now has in custody 46 out of 132 members of the Palestinian parliament. The vast majority of them are from Hamas, including the parliament speaker. None of them have yet been sentenced, though most have appeared before Israeli military courts.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur