The Arab League has supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state,’ the latest setback in a two-state solution.
The statement underscores the seemingly impassable chasm that has prevented a diplomatic solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The council of the Arab League confirms its support for the Palestinian leadership in its effort to end the Israeli occupation over Palestinian lands, and emphasizes its rejection of recognizing Israel as a 'Jewish state'," Arab foreign ministers said in a statement in Cairo on Sunday.
The Palestinians seek the recognition of statehood in the West
Bank, Gaza Strip, with the capital situated in east Jerusalem.
The United States, Israel’s powerful ally, supports the concept,
which has been rejected by Netanyahu.
The seven-page Arab resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis said it rejects “the demand by Israel and some international parties to identify Israel as a Jewish state, which aims to annul the right of return and compensation for Palestinian refugees.”
Arab League chief, Nabil Elaraby, urged Arab countries to take a “firm stand” against the Israeli conditions.
“This is a deviation from the international resolutions agreed upon as a basis for the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, which requires a firm Arab stand to … reevaluate the negotiation track as a whole, and to strongly express definite Arab rejection of this serious turn,” he told the opening session of the meeting.
Netanyahu, however, appears more determined than ever to stick to his guns on the issue.
"In recognizing the Jewish state you [Palestinians] would finally make clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict," Netanyahu said in a speech to AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in Washington on Tuesday.
"So recognize the Jewish state, no excuses, no delays. It is time," he said.
The Palestinians argue that Benjamin Netanyahu has been the first Israeli leader to make recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a condition for granting the Palestinian people their own state.
The Palestinian Authority says that recognizing Israel as a “Jewish State” would de jure declare the Palestinians living in Palestine as illegitimate, possibly exposing them to discrimination. It would also effectively eliminate any ‘right of return’ for the millions of Palestinians who were forced from their homes after Israel was granted state status by the United Nations in 1948.
The UN estimates the number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants at 4.98 million - over half Israel's present population of some 8.1 million people.
Abbas has said that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) already recognized the state of Israel in 1993.
"We recognized Israel in mutual recognition in the Oslo agreement - why do they now ask us to recognize the Jewishness of the state?" he asked.
"Why didn't they present this demand to Jordan or Egypt when they signed a peace agreement with them?" Abbas added.
In a speech last month, Abbas also sought to calm Israel’s fear of millions of Palestinians flooding its borders in the event of a peace agreement, saying: "We do not seek either to flood Israel with millions [of refugees] or to change its social composition."
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on US Secretary of State John Kerry’s April-29 deadline for reaching a “framework agreement” between the two sides.
Washington, despite its strong commitment to Israel, seems to be losing patience with Netanyahu.
Ahead of the Israeli leader’s meeting last week in Washington, US President Obama warned that the United States may not be able to protect Israel if a two-state solution with the Palestinians fails.
If Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach,” Obama told Bloomberg in an interview. “There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices.”
There remain a number of other thorny issues hindering the negotiation process, including the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“New construction in the West Bank skyrocketed in 2013 compared to 2012, new Israeli data revealed on Monday,” according to The Times of Israel. “The Central Bureau of Statistics reported an increase of 123 percent in construction of new homes in the West Bank in 2013 compared to 2012, a ratio dramatically higher than in the other six districts examined.”
Another burning issue that has aggravated the negotiation process is the Palestinian-led movement to boycott, divest from and sanction (BDS) Israel over its ongoing settlement development in the occupied territories.
The European Union, for example, Israel's top trading partner, has dramatically reduced its import of fruits and vegetables grown on land that Israel has occupied since 1967. Last year, Israeli farmers in the Jordan Valley lost an estimated $29 million, or 14 percent of revenue.
At the same time, members of the American Studies Association voted in December to support the Association’s participation in a controversial boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
The Israeli leader harshly criticized such efforts.
"The BDS movement is not about legitimate criticism, it's about making Israel illegitimate," Netanyahu said. "That movement will fail."
Finally, the Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the future capital of their new state. However, Netanyahu in January told Israeli television that “Jerusalem will not be divided so long as I’m prime minister.”
Abbas is scheduled to meet with Obama in Washington on March 17, as part of ongoing US efforts to reach an agreement between the two sides.