Palestinian officials foresee secular, pluralistic state
The Palestinians say they'll seek a vote on Palestinian statehood in the United Nations this month.
"The future Palestinian state will be open to all its citizens, regardless of their religion," Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian Authority's minister of religious affairs, said in Ramallah. "We want a civil state, which in it live all the faiths, Muslim, Christian and Jews also if they agree, (and) accept to be Palestinian citizens.
Habbash's comments come after the ambassador for the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States, Maen Areikat, said when asked Tuesday whether he could foresee a Jew being elected mayor of Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank: "I personally still believe that as a first step we need to be totally separated, and we can contemplate these issues in the future."
Areikat, speaking at a breakfast for reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, continued: "After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated first."
The comment was carried by websites and newspapers around the world, eliciting harsh reactions from Israeli members of parliament and members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Areikat later told other online media outlets that he never meant that Jews would not be allowed in a future state.
"I never said that, and I never meant to say such a thing," he told The Huffington Post. Areikat declined to comment further to USA TODAY.
Habbash said the state would provide protection to any Jews who remained within the borders of a Palestinian state and accepted Palestinian citizenship, "equal with other citizens." But no one would be allowed to remain armed, as settlers are now, he said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have called for a secular, pluralistic Palestinian state, says Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine, which advocates a non-militarized Palestinian state alongside Israel.
"If Israel is to be a pluralistic society, and the 20% of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish are to be treated as Israeli citizens, it's natural that a Palestinian state should treat Jews as Palestinian citizens," Ibish said.
Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, said he read Areikat's comments to mean a ban on Jews.
"That's the state that the Palestinians want to declare unilaterally, without negotiations, and have recognized by the U.N.," Oren said.