Refugee issue key to Middle East peace: Cohen

Israeli Ambassador Eli Cohen said Thursday the refugee issue is the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and there will be no peace in the Middle East unless the issue is resolved.

During a visit to The Japan Times, Cohen said it is not realistic to envisage a Palestinian state forming in the next few years.

The so-called road map to peace, jointly worked out by the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

The number of Palestinian refugees has increased to 4.5 million from 600,000 in 1948, making it impossible for Israel to accept them, he said. Solutions should be worked out by countries where the refugees are now, such as Jordan, where 70 percent to 80 percent of them are located, he said.

If Israel takes refugees, “we will lose the status as a Jewish state,” he said.

The former Knesset member for the Likud Party said that additional issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, the demarcation of borders, Jewish settlements and water distribution, also must be solved to achieve true peace.

Cohen arrived in Japan in January and submitted his credentials to the Emperor on April 9. He holds a black belt fifth dan in karate and teaches the martial art once a week.

Cohen, who has also held the positions of president and CEO in several Israeli and French high-tech companies, said there is the potential for bilateral cooperation in the high-tech field, including electronics and biotechnology, to increase 10-fold in the next three to five years.

High-tech trade between the two countries increased by 39 percent from 2002 to 2003, he said.