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RAMAT GAN, Israel (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted on Sunday the U.S.-backed goal of a Palestinian state but balked at meeting President Barack Obama's demand to stop Jewish settlement expansion.
Netanyahu's reversal on statehood appeared to be a bid to end the worst rift in U.S.-Israeli relations in a decade. But further friction appeared likely over his refusal to budge on settlements.
Netanyahu said he would support the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israel was ready to go, just as soon as the Palestinians declare their recognition of Israel as “a Jewish state.”
“Where does that leave us?” asked Jawad Abu Ghosh, an Arab who's been an Israeli citizen all his 50 years. “Such a designation has a very racist characteristic to it.”
“It's hard enough getting equal rights in Israel as it's defined today,” said Mr. Abu Ghosh, the deputy mayor of this largely Muslim town of 6,000. “Can you imagine how hard it will be if Israel is recognized as a Jewish state?”
“These people have a lot of nerve,” Mr. Abu Ghosh said. “They take control over our land and insist on their culture being the only one recognized.”
“Our family came to this area 500 years ago,” said Issa Abu Ghosh, the director of education in the community. As the names suggest, many, if not most, of the Muslim residents of this town are members of one large family whose patriarch established control of these hills in the 16th century.
“We teach Jewish history in the schools,” Issa Abu Ghosh said. “We accept them as the majority in the country. But it shouldn't be exclusive.”
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has refused. “It is not my job to give a description of the state,” he said. “Name yourself the Hebrew Socialist Republic – it is none of my business.”
RAMAT GAN, Israel, June 14, 2009 (Reuters)
Netanyahu, who has refused to back a state for Palestinians since he took office in March, said he would now endorse the establishment of a such a state -- but only if Israel received in advance international guarantees the new nation would have no army and Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state.