A Palestinian negotiator claimed Friday that Israel
offered to halt a limited amount of construction work in Jewish settlements in the West Bank in an effort to find a way to restart peace negotiations.
The offer suggests Israeli officials are quietly trying to find ways of restarting the peace talks.
Saeb Erekat said the offer came last month through a foreign envoy who conveyed a message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Settlement construction (Photo: EPA)
An Israeli official denied the offer was made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Erekat said the Palestinians dismissed it because it applied only to government construction. He noted that 82% of settlement construction is done by private contractors, and called on Israel to halt all building activity. He claimed that Netanyahu deliberately separates the private and state projects in order to "deceive the world."
"If Netanyahu wants to resume negotiations, he has to say that settlement building will stop. Either it stops or it doesn't stop," Erekat said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas'
spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina criticized Netanyahu as well, saying that the prime minister's "goal is to evade and deceive the international community… Our position is clear. We will not return to the negotiations unless the construction in the settlements is stopped completely."
Israel has said the issue must be on the negotiating table and not serve as a precondition.
Israel captured the territories in the Six Day War,
and has annexed east Jerusalem – a move that the international community doesn't recognize.
Some half million Israeli Jews live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Palestinians say their presence, particularly in areas around Jerusalem and deep in the West Bank, would make the emergence of a viable state impossible.
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations sputtered to a halt long ago over the issue of settlement construction.
Israel agreed in the past to slow down settlement building for 10 months, but Palestinians only agreed to negotiate in the last few weeks of that period. Israeli officials refused to renew the slowdown, despite heavy US pressure to do so.
Following the PA's delivery of its UN membership bid
in September, the Quartet of Mideast mediators – the US, UN, EU and Russia – called for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in a month, with the goal of a peace agreement by the end of 2012.
According to a US State Department announcement, the Israelis and Palestinians are scheduled to meet separately with the Quartet October 26.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report