U.S. sees Israel’s ‘Jewish’ demand as legit

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The United States sees as legitimate Israel’s demand that Palestinians and other Arab states recognize Israel’s Jewish character, a State Department spokesman said.

P.J. Crowley was pressed in a briefing Tuesday about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to extend a partial settlement building freeze in exchange for the Palestinian leadership’s recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

"What Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday is, in essence, the — a core demand of the Israeli government, which we support, is a recognition that Israel is a part of the region, acceptance by the region of the existence of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and that is what they want to see through this negotiation," Crowley said.

Palestinians have balked at the offer, saying that recognizing Israel as Jewish should be reserved for final-status talks.

Crowley said Netanyahu’s offer was appropriate, considering that the sides have agreed to come to a final-status agreement by next September. He said the Palestinians could break the current impasse in the talks over extending the settlement freeze by countering with their own "core issue" demand.

"This is not a one-way street. It is a two-way street," he said. "The prime minister is offering something and asking for something. It is perfectly within the rights of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas to say there’s something I need and there’s something I’m willing to give. This is the essence of the negotiation that is ongoing and the essence of the negotiation that we want to see continue."

On Wednesday, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said the Palestinians would consider the offer if the United States and Israel outline what they see as the borders of a Palestinian state — another final-status issue.

"If this map is based on the 1967 borders and provides for the end of the Israeli occupation over all Palestinian lands … then we recognize Israel by whatever name it applies to itself in accordance with international law," Abed Rabbo was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

Netanyahu has rejected a return to 1967 borders, but has not ruled out land swaps as compensation for settlements that would remain inside Israel.

Netanyahu’s offer to the Palestinians came a day after Israel’s Cabinet voted to back a law that would require new non-Jewish citizens of Israel to swear fealty to a Jewish, democratic Israel.

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