Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is rejecting a key demand of the United States and Israel as part of ongoing peace talks that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
"They are pressing and saying, 'no peace without the Jewish state,'" Abbas said in remarks released Friday by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA. "There is no way. We will not accept."
Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is believed to be part of the blueprint for an agreement developed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. He hoped to win endorsements from Israel and the Palestinians on an outline for a peace agreement by the end of next month.
President Obama has repeatedly referred to Israel as the Jewish state, most recently in his State of the Union speech in January. Still, in an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama cast Abbas as a political moderate and put the onus on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign on to the proposals.
"There comes a point where you can't manage this [conflict] anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices," Obama said.
Abbas' statement shows that Obama's message was misdirected.
Abbas is scheduled to visit the White House March 17. Many Palestinians and their supporters believe that yielding on Israel's Jewish identity would forfeit leverage on any Palestinian "right of return." Kerry's blueprint reportedly includes provisions allowing thousands of Palestinians to live inside Israel, but not near the tidal wave Palestinians demand. The volume that Palestinians seek could threaten Israel's Jewish majority.
In his remarks, Abbas indicated Palestinians might turn to "popular resistance" to gain concessions. And he would again try for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.
Israel's foes also promise a more aggressive campaign to boycott Israel products and try to force institutions to divest from companies doing business in Israel. It is significant to remember, therefore, who is saying "no way" to the new proposals.
In a speech Monday at the American-Israel Public Affairs Council's annual meeting, Netanyahu praised the U.S.-led effort, spoke of the mutual benefits peace could bring the region and challenged Abbas to respond in kind.
"Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state," Netanyahu said. "President Abbas, recognize the Jewish state, and in doing so, you would be telling your people, the Palestinians, that while we might have a territorial dispute, the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own is beyond dispute.
"You would be telling Palestinians to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees, or amputating parts of the Negev and the Galilee. In recognizing the Jewish state, you would finally making clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict. So recognize the Jewish state. No excuses, no delays, it's time."