Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
TEL AVIV, Israel – Just days before he is scheduled to meet President Obama in Washington, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today declared his U.S.-backed organization will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“Jewish state, what is that supposed to mean?” Abbas asked in a speech before student delegates of his Fatah party.
“You can call yourselves as you like, but I don’t accept it, and I say so publicly,” he said.
“Name yourself, it’s not my business,” said Abbas.
He was responding to calls by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish country.
“All I know is that there is the state of Israel, in the borders of 1967, not one centimeter more, not one centimeter less. Anything else, I don’t accept,” he said.
Abbas was referring to his demand of a total Israeli retreat from the Gaza Strip, West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City and Temple Mount.
Fatah is considered moderate by Israeli and U.S. policy. However, contrary to popular perception, Fatah has never officially recognized Israel as a Jewish state, or even as a country with the right to exist.
In 1994, the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, signed what was known as the “recognition principals,” in which the PLO formally agreed to recognize Israel. Fatah is the largest faction of the PLO, and as such, is thought to be party to the recognition agreement.
Fatah as a party, however, never officially declared it recognized the Jewish state. The last time the Fatah party held its official congress – in which it amended its charter – was in 1989. At that time, Fatah declared jihad on Israel and called for the Jewish state’s destruction.
PLO Leader Yasser Arafat later made a statement to the French media in which he claimed the portion of Fatah’s charter calling for the destruction of Israel was null and void, but the terms were never officially nullified. According to Fatah bylaws, the group’s charter can only be changed by vote during an official Fatah congress session.