If Netanyahu is just stonewalling and not bringing up an important obstacle to peace, then why does Abbas consider the issue so critical that he refuses to give ground on it? Netanyahu has highlighted a major problem with the peace process: the Palestinian leadership refuses to accept the permanence of Israel.
It’s one thing to acknowledge something exists. Fine. Israel exists. No one can dispute the physical fact. Recognizing it is also child’s play. It’s easy to recognize the legitimacy, i.e. the authority that your negotiating partner has. The future is what is at stake, however. Mahmoud Abbas is carrying a torch on this issue. Palestinian leaders want to slip a massive Palestinian refugee population into a final deal,hoping it will have some democratic impact on Israel to the point where a larger Arab minority of voters push for a de-officiating of the Jewish status and symbols of the state.
To Abbas’ credit, he is probably banking on the nuance that a deal that doesn’t acknowledge Israel’s Jewishness might leave the door open to repealing that official status later on — something that the Palestinian right wing can live with. Netanyahu wants to close that door. He wants Palestinians to accept the notion of a permanently Jewish country. I am sure that the Palestinian leadership would want some acknowledgement themselves that Israel has no design to recapture a Palestinian state, or absorb it later. An Israeli withdrawal would go far advancing that idea. So why can’t the Palestinians commit even to theory what Israel is being asked to do in physical reality?
Netanyahu isn’t playing a right wing trick on this issue to deflect responsibility for a peace deal. Mahmoud Abbas has to acknowledge this status of the State of Israel and set a constitutional precedent for a State of Palestine that Israel’s Jewishness is politically, perhaps literally, sacred.