Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas answered a demand by Israel to recognize it as a Jewish state somewhat sardonically, saying that as far as he was concerned, "Israel can call itself… the Jewish-Zionist Empire". Abbas spoke just before meeting President Shimon Peres in New York.
In an interview with the Palestinian Maan news agency Abbas said the state's character was "not interesting", adding that "if Israel wants negotiations in which the Palestinians recognize it, then it must also recognize a Palestinian state".
Abbas spoke shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that the recognition would be a central part of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
"Just say it," Netanyahu called on Abbas. "Say yes to a Jewish state".
The prime minister explained that he was insisting on this because "this is a move the Palestinians have refused to make for 62 years. Its significance is Palestinian recognition of the right of the Jewish people to self-definition in their historic homeland. I recognized the Palestinians' right to self-definition, so they must do the same for the Jewish people."
Palestinian officials have said repeatedly that they would not recognize Israel as Jewish because it would irredeemably revoke the Palestinian refugees' right of return.
"Just as Israel has given every Jew in the world the right to immigrate to Israel, so should the new state allow Palestinians throughout the world to immigrate to its territory. Palestinian refugees have no place in a Jewish state," Netanyahu said.
Regarding the Israeli Arabs he said, "A Jewish state means no one has the right to approve a law damaging Israel's character. There are more than a million non-Jews in Israel who enjoy equal rights, but this does not mean they have national rights. They are free to voted and be chosen, and to be full and equal partners in Israeli democracy, but they do not have the right to create their own state."
Abbas must make a decision, Netanyahu declared. "He cannot evade the issue nor can use vague words and terms. He must recognize the state as Jewish and say it in a clear manner to his people in their language," he concluded.