But in taking this position, Abbas – considered by the Obama administration to be a moderate Palestinian leader with whom a deal can be struck – is not going as far as his predecessor. Yasser Arafat recognized Israel as a Jewish state at least twice. In an undated video, Arafat said the PNC (Palestine National Council) accepted two states. One Palestinian, and a "Jewish state ... Israel."
"The PNC has accepted two states. Palestine state and Jewish state ... Israel."
Arafat also unequivocally accepted Israel's Jewish character during a 2004 interview. Asked whether Israel should endure as a Jewish state, Arafat's reply simply was "Definitely."
"What Arafat permitted," Ari Shavit wrote last month in Haaretz, "Abbas cannot forbid. The current Palestinian Authority president must say explicitly what his predecessor said implicitly. Peace? There won't be any peace if Abbas doesn't follow in Arafat's footsteps and say that Israel is a Jewish state whose Jewish character must be preserved."
Abbas is scheduled to visit the White House next week. In an interview last month that included pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to support the U.S.-led effort, President Obama told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that Abbas represents "a partner on the other side who is prepared to negotiate seriously ... for us to not seize this moment I think would be a great mistake. I've said directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu he has an opportunity to solidify, to lock in, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel that is at peace with its neighbors."
Only if Abbas is prepared to negotiate seriously.
In Washington last week, Netanyahu spoke glowingly of the opportunities a peace deal would present. Abbas responded to that optimism with an adamant rejection of a reality that even Yasser Arafat could see. Israel twice before has extended generous offers that would create a Palestinian state, only to have them rejected, most recently by Abbas in 2008.
In an interview with an Israeli television station, Netanyahu said the Palestinian posturing creates doubts about the depth of their commitment to a peace deal.
"The question of whether there will be an agreement must first and foremost be posed to the Palestinians," he said.