When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went to the White House last week he told President Obama that there was "no way" he would recognize Israel as the Jewish nation state, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says is essential to any peace agreement.
Is that the final word or just each leader's negotiating position? Who is right in this debate?
The issues has been raised in prior negotiations but this is the first time Israel put it on the "must" list.
Some say Netanyahu did that because he knew it was unacceptable to Abbas and was hoping it would compel the Palestinian leader to quit the talks — as he had previously in the first Obama term — and take the fall for their failure. But don't discount that Abbas' refusal may also be calculated. He may want to save it for a final bargaining chip to sell at the highest price — if the talks even get that far.
President Obama strongly backs recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and so does Secretary of State John Kerry, but he has said that is an issue for the two sides to negotiate between themselves. Kerry noted that the issue was resolved in the 1947 U.N. Security Council Resolution 181 which made more than 30 references to the "Jewish state."
Yasser Arafat himself did it as well. "The Palestine National Council…said clearly there are two states in Palestine, a Palestinian state and a Jewish state," he said. That should give Abbas all the cover he needs. If he wants it.
He, too, may be looking for a way to scuttle the talks but still duck the finger of blame.
Each side makes a strong argument for its point of view. Read about it in my Washington Watch column.