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Israel PM says no deal unless PLO recognizes 'Jewish state'

March 11, 2014 3:35 P.M. (Updated: March 24, 2014 5:19 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday ruled out any deal with the PLO unless they recognize Israel as a Jewish state and give up the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

And he said Israel and the Palestinians were getting further away from reaching a peace deal.

"They (Palestinians) say they will never recognize a Jewish state and that they will never give up on the right of return," Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast on Israeli public radio.

"I want to make clear that I will not accept an agreement that does not cancel the (refugees') right of return and which does not include Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state," he said in an address to the ruling right-wing Likud-Beitenu faction.

"These are basic conditions, which are justified and vital to the security of Israel."

The PLO reject that claim, underlining that they already recognized Israel in 1993 and saying that enshrining it as a "Jewish state" would jeopardize the rights of the around 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are of Palestinian descent, in addition to the Palestinian refugees' right to return home.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is facing an uphill struggle to get the two sides to agree on a framework which would guide the talks past an April 29 deadline and allow them to continue to the end of the year, with a clause relating to the issue of the Jewish state reportedly included in the proposal.

For the PLO, the issue is intimately entwined with the fate of their refugees who were forced out of their homes or fled in 1948 when Israel became a state.

At the time they numbered 760,000, but now, with their descendants, their numbers have increased to around five million.

They see Netanyahu's demand as a way to sidestep a negotiated solution to the refugee question.

Abbas has said he does not want "to flood Israel" with returning refugees.

But Israel fears that any flexibility on the issue would open the floodgates to millions of refugees, which would pose a demographic threat to the so-called "Jewish and democratic character" of the state.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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