EU urges Israel to guarantee equality for all its citizens

10/12/2010 21:20

From The Daily Star

The European Union on Tuesday urged Israel to guarantee the equality of all its citizens after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Palestinians to recognize Israel’s Jewish identity in exchange for a freeze on settlement building in occupied Palestinian territories.

Asked to comment on Netanyahu’s call for the Palestinian leadership to recognize “Israel as the national state of the Jewish people,” a spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton said: “We support the two democratic states living side by side in peace and security.

“We also stress that the future states of Palestine and Israel will need to fully guarantee equality to all their citizens: basically in the case of Israel this means whether they are Jewish or not.”

Israel’s right-wing government voted overwhelmingly on Sunday in favor of legislation requiring non-Jewish new citizens to swear allegiance to the country as a Jewish state.

A halt to construction of settlements is seen as key to rescuing direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians relaunched last month after a breakdown of nearly two years.

The Palestinians formally recognized Israel on the eve of the 1993 Oslo Accords, but have rejected demands to recognize its Jewish character

because it would effectively renounce the right of return for refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

On Monday, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat immediately rejected Netanyahu’s offer, saying the issue was completely unrelated to the crisis in the US-brokered peace talks.

“This order has nothing to do with the peace process or with the obligations that Israel has not implemented,” Erakat said. “This is completely rejected.”

Meanwhile, in occupied Jerusalem, an Israeli Cabinet minister said that top officials doubt a peace deal with the Palestinians can be reached soon even though Netanyahu has committed to try to reach an agreement within a year.

“I don’t know a single minister in the septet who thinks it’s possible to reach a deal in the foreseeable future,” said Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon. He was referring to the seven-member decision-making body in Netanyahu’s Cabinet.

Yaalon, speaking to Army Radio, accused the Palestinians of being intransigent and of carrying out repeated violence and incitement since 1993, when the two sides signed their first, interim peace accord.

He claimed the Palestinians have refused to declare an end to their conflict with Israel, even under a peace deal, suggesting that further demands for territorial concessions could follow.

However, an official in the prime minister’s office disputed Yaalon’s take on the matter, noting that Netanyahu, who leads the septet, had reiterated his goal of reaching peace within one year during a parliamentary speech on Monday.

“He believes firmly that if both sides show creativity and flexibility and are ready to take tough decisions, then peace is possible. But it has to be a two-way street. It can’t just be the Palestinians making demands and Israel making concessions,” said the official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to respond to another minister’s comments. – Agencies


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