Recognizing Israel No Condition to Restart Talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not setting recognition of Israel as a state for the Jewish people as a condition for restarting peace talks with the Palestinians but said it would be impossible to make progress without such recogntion, his office said on Monday.

"The prime minister has never made the recognition of Israel as a state of the Jewish people a precondition to peace negotiations and dialogue with the Palestinians," said a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

But "the recognition of Israel as a Jewish country is a matter of principle largely accepted in Israel and the world, without which it is impossible to make progress in the peace process and reach a peace agreement."

Last week, the hawkish new prime premier told visiting U.S. envoy George Mitchell that Israel expected the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

The Palestinian Authority has rejected such a demand in the past, saying it only recognizes Israel within the borders before the 1967 Middle East war when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Recognition of a Jewish state would effectively amount to the Palestinians abandoning the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Israel and the Palestinians re-launched peace negotiations at a U.S. conference in November 2007, but they have made little progress since and talks were frozen during the war in Gaza in December and January.

The future of the troubled peace process has become more uncertain with Netanyahu’s appointment as he has not endorsed the idea of the creation of a Palestinian state — a principle Israel committed to under the 2003 international Middle East peace "roadmap".

( and Agencies)

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