JERUSALEM (EJP)—Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said wide gaps remain in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped ut his latest visit to the region.
“We are attempting to achieve a framework for a continuation of negotiations for a period exceeding the nine months in which some thought that we would be able to reach a permanent agreement,” the minister said.
“We are not dealing with a framework agreement, but with a framework for the continuation of negotiations for a more lengthy period,” Yaalon said.
“It is clear there are big gaps – they are not new – but it is definitely in our interest to continue the talks,” he said.
Before leaving the region on Monday, Kerry said the two sides were making progress but there was still a chance no accord would be reached. US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that Kerry would return soon to continue his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
“We will take into account the suggestions, the requests and wishes of the parties and I hope and we will work so that in a few weeks, or perhaps a month – I don’t know how long – we will be ready to present a proposal for a framework on all the core issues,” Shapiro said.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Palestinians’ refusal to formally acknowledge the country’s Jewish character had become the key topic in his discussions with Kerry.
Palestinian officials admitted that Kerry has pressed the issue with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has so far refused to bend.
“The Americans have made it very clear that [recognition of Israel as a Jewish state]is their position,” one Palestinian official told The Daily Telegraph. “They talk about it in meetings with our side and make an issue out of it. We have made it very clear that we are not going to sign any agreement that recognises Israel as a Jewish state.”
Netanyahu has linked the issue to what he said was a campaign of Palestinian incitement against Israel.
“The Palestinians are continuing their campaign of inciting hatred, as we have seen in the last few days with their refusal to recognise Israel as a state for the Jewish people,” he told Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “This is the main issue that we’re discussing with Mr Kerry. We are not foreigners in Jerusalem, Beit El or Hebron. I reiterate that, in my view, this is the root of both the conflict and the incitement – the non-recognition of this basic fact.”
The Israeli Prime Minister hs made such recognition the pillar of his public statements in recent weeks, calling it “the real key to peace,” “the minimal requirement” and “an essential condition.” Israeli, American and Palestinian officials all say it has become a core issue in the negotiations that started last summer.
The Palestinians contend that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would disenfranchise its 1.6 million Arab citizens, and undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees.
But Israeli leaders say that the refugee question can be resolved separately and that the status of Israel’s Arab minority can be protected.
Without acceptance by the Palestinians that their neighbor is and will be, in Israel’s favored formulation, “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Israelis argue that they can never be convinced that an agreement truly spells the end of the conflict.