WASHINGTON - The Palestinian Liberation Organization's Ambassador to the US Maen Areikat said Wednesday that any future Palestinian state
must be free of Jews. Speaking to reporters in the US he said, "After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated."
Areikat made the statements after being asked about the rights of minorities in a future Palestinian state, USA Today reported. He declared that the PLO seeks a secular state, but that Palestinians need separation to work on their own national identity.
Later Wednesday, Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habash dismissed Areikat's statements, saying that the Palestinian state is to welcome members of all faiths. He asserted that any media attempts to manipulate anti-Jewish statements are politically motivated.
He added that the Palestinian Authority and its ambassador to Washington have a clear stance on the matter.
Palestinians expected to win overwhelming majority (Photo: AFP)
Minister of Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein also responded to Areikat's remarks. "After an unending de-legitimization campaign and attempts to brand Israel an apartheid state, it appears it is the Palestinians who seek apartheid.
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He said the statements are reminiscent of Nazi slogans. "His comments conjure up Judenrein motifs. I wonder if Areikat's remark that both peoples must live separately means that one million Arab-Israelis are not part of his people."
Areikat's comments caused a stir among Jewish leaders. Elliott Abrams, a former US National Security Council official, said in response that according to such plans, Palestine will be the first to officially prohibit Jews or any other faith since Nazi Germany, which sought a country that was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews.
Abrams described the demand as "a despicable form of anti-Semitism" adding that a small Jewish presence in a future Palestinian state would not hurt the Palestinian identity.
EU's Ashton with Saeb Erekat (Photo: AP)
The UN's General Assembly is scheduled to address the Palestinian bid for recognition next week, with Israel, the US and several European states strongly opposing it. The Palestinians are slated to win an overwhelming majority at the Assembly as it is controlled by Arab and Muslim states.
Nevertheless, any such resolution would not have practical significance and in order to be accepted as a full member in the UN the PA will need Security Council endorsement.
Meanwhile, Jordan's foreign minister said Wednesday his country supports a Palestinian drive for recognition at the UN but prefers negotiations toward creation of a Palestinian state.
Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters that Jordan supports the Palestinian campaign, but it should take into account the rights of Palestinian refugees, the fate of Jerusalem and the borders of a future Palestinian state.
He said the "best way" to attain statehood is through "direct negotiations."
Meanwhile, a high-level US team kicked off a new round of shuttle diplomacy on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to contain the diplomatic fallout from the Palestinian statehood push, but the odds of a breakthrough appeared slim as the Palestinians pledged to go ahead with mass rallies to draw world attention to their bid.
US diplomats Dennis Ross and David Hale arrived late Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. They were to travel to the West Bank on Thursday to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. No breakthrough has thus been achieved.
In addition to the US efforts, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and special international Mideast envoy Tony Blair have been meeting with the sides this week. US officials said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been in touch with both Ashton and Blair in recent days.
Barak urged Ashton to prevent the Palestinians from tabling a resolution proposal.
Ashton is proposing a three-part plan: Grating the Palestinians UN observer status similar to that of the Vatican, issuing a Quartet statement accounting both the Israeli and the Palestinian needs, and a UN chief pledge the put forward a recognition resolution in the future.
Germany is opposed to Ashton's plan which has not won European consensus. The US, on its part, wants the plan to be presented to allow each side to voice its reservations.
Both Israel and the Palestinians oppose the plan.
AP, Attila Somfalvi and Elior Levy contributed to this report