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Israel seeks formal "Jewish" state label

by Joshua Brilliant Tuesday, Jun. 03, 2003 at 12:51 AM

Israel's diplomatic efforts appear to be focused on U.S. officials who are helping prepare Bush's subsequent meeting Wednesday in Aqaba, Jordan, with Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and Jordan's King Abdallah II expected to attend.

Israel seeks formal "Jewish" state label

By Joshua Brilliant



JERUSALEM, June 1 (UPI) -- Israel is trying to convince President Bush and Arab leaders that attend this week's Middle East summit meetings to publicly unequivocally accept their nation as "a Jewish State."

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is seeking such recognition at Tuesday's summit of moderate Arab states and the American president in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt although Israel has turned town an offer to send its own delegation to the meeting, a well-placed official confirmed Sunday.

Israel's diplomatic efforts appear to be focused on U.S. officials who are helping prepare Bush's subsequent meeting Wednesday in Aqaba, Jordan, with Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and Jordan's King Abdallah II expected to attend.

The plan for the Aqaba summit calls for separate meetings between Bush and Sharon, then Bush and Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), and finally a joint press conference in which each side will read their own statement.

The U.S. is working separately with each side and appears to be keeping details of their statements from the other side. A senior Israeli official told reporters Sunday that the Israeli government does not know what is in the Palestinian draft.

Foreign Minister Shalom, who spoke to reporters at a joint press conference with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, said Israel was seeking a "clear statement by Bush of the need to preserve Israel as a Jewish state."

"We expect Abu Mazen to say so as well. We expect the Sharm el-Sheikh summit to express an Arab undertaking to recognize Israel as a Jewish state," Shalom added.

The Israelis are raising that point because the roadmap for peace that the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia have presented calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders -- before the refugee issue is resolved.

The Palestinians are also demanding the right for Arab refugees to return to their old homes inside Israel. Arabs already account for 19 percent of Israel's population -- not including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip -- so an influx of millions of refugees would significantly alter Israel's demographic character.

Israeli officials argue that recognition of the state's Jewish nature would signal the refugees would not return. A well-placed Israeli official confirmed to United Press International they were looking for a workable formula that would resolve the issue.

Diplomats are also discussing a reference to the need to evacuate illegal settlements that Israel has established in the West Bank.

The proposed roadmap says the Israeli government should "immediately" dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and then freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth.

Sharon Sunday told his cabinet "it is very possible" that the final statement at the Aqaba summit would include a reference to the settlements.

"Why must there be a reference to it when there is no quiet (in the territories)?" the tourism minister, Benny Elon of the hawkish National Union, asked at the session, according to a participant.

"I don't know how it will be formulated," Sharon reportedly answered. "In any event there will be a reference to the fact that there would be no progress unless terror, violence and incitement stop," he added.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the ministers that Israeli military and intelligence had foiled three attempted car bomb attacks in recent days and several attempts to penetrate Israel.

Abu Mazen said Friday the Palestinians needed time to reorganize their security systems and that it would take 2-3 weeks before they could assume responsibility in the northern Gaza Strip. It would require even more time, he said, to establish a security hold on the West Bank.

Israel has reportedly rejected a request that, at the summit, Sharon undertake to end the occupation. A senior Israeli official pointed out that after Sharon openly said Israel could not continue as an occupying authority over 3.5 million Palestinians, Sharon has decided he will not be pressured into repeating the controversial statement.

Sharon's latest moves have stunned Israeli hawks who began reacting in ways that recalled the charged atmosphere that had led to the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, by a Jewish extremist. Critics accused Sharon of treason and Transport Minister Avigdor Liberman of the National Union reportedly warned of a possible civil war if settlements are removed.

"Lower the tones," Sharon urged his hawkish allies in the cabinet. "The tensions caused are damaging."

President Moshe Katsav urged party leaders "to make it clear to their supporters that they should not be tempted to follow prohibited paths."

Meanwhile, a senior Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that the Egyptians very much wanted Israel, or at least Sharon, to attend Tuesday's summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. The source said that no official invitation was sent, most likely due to the fact that Israel had already indicated it would not attend.

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