U.S., Israel Divided Over Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister demands recognition as a "Jewish state"

The White House aggressively pushed for the creation of a Palestinian state in Thursday talks with the Israeli government, despite Israel's claims that it could lead to increased violence in the region.

American envoy George Mitchell told newly elected Israeli leaders in a meeting that the U.S. government is aiming to officially recognize Palestinian statehood. He was met with resounding criticism from the Israeli government, who expressed fear that militant Palestinian groups like Hamas would overrun the region.

"U.S. policy favors ... a two-state solution, which would have a Palestinian state living in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel," Mitchell said to Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The two-state solution has been American policy since the Clinton administration.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Mitchell in the closed meetings that his government wouldn't recognize Palestinian statehood because of lingering concerns that Hamas would take over, as it did Gaza in 2007.

The "mistake" Israel made in 2007 by retreating from the West Bank "is not going to be repeated," an Israeli official said.

Netanyahu also said he would only continue talks if Palestinians recognized Israel as a "Jewish state" - a step Palestinian officials have yet to publicly take. Mitchell referred to the "Jewish state of Israel" twice in public statements. Netanyahu's request, which hasn't been put on the table before, is a key step in Israel's recognition of two separate states for two separate peoples, officials in his cabinet said.

Lieberman questioned Mitchell's voiced hope for peace between the regions in a statement, saying that past attempts at Palestinian and Israeli coexistence have only led to a "dead end."

"The historic approach has so far not brought any result or solution," Lieberman's office said.

Lieberman has in the past advocated for a strict physical separation of Jews and Arabs, including Israeli Arabs, a position that got him kicked out of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet several years ago.

"Past prime ministers were prepared to make wide-ranging concessions, and the result of the Olmert-Livni government was the second Lebanon war, the operation in Gaza, severance of relations with Qatar and Mauritania, Gilad Schalit still in captivity and the peace process at a dead end," Lieberman said.

Palestinian officials said the lukewarm Israeli response means that the government won't be receptive to any kind of peace talks, no matter what arrangement the Obama administration proposes.

"It's very obvious that this government rejects a two-state solution and the agreements (already) signed," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Mitchell will meet Friday with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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