Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday spurned a new US effort to revive Mideast peace talks, sticking to his position that he will not resume negotiations unless Israel freezes settlement construction.
With Abbas digging in, an upcoming diplomatic mission by US Mideast envoy George Mitchell could be doomed from the outset.
Mitchell has said he is trying to persuade both sides to resume talks aimed at ending their decades-old conflict. Previous talks broke off in December 2008.
However, the US has failed to get Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want for their state. Israel captured both from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.
Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to a 10-month moratorium on new construction in just the West Bank. Israel continues to build for Jews in east Jerusalem.
Abbas said on Tuesday he will not resume talks under the current conditions. "No negotiations," he told reporters at his headquarters in Ramallah. "We won't agree to resume negotiations without a full settlement freeze, especially in Jerusalem, for a certain period."
The Obama administration has recently suggested bypassing the settlement issue by getting the two sides to discuss the borders of a Palestinian state. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that by focusing on the endgame, such talks would defuse the problem of settlements.
But Abbas' insistence on a settlement freeze suggested the US approach won't work.
Israel arrests Bilin, Naalin residents
The US lost credibility among Palestinians by backing down on settlements, an issue they see as an important test of Washington's resolve. Under the US-backed "road map" plan, Israel is required to freeze all settlement construction.
The Israeli government has not commented on the proposed US plan. But aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have said he will not agree to divide Jerusalem and will not permit Palestinian refugees to return to what is now Israel.
Also Tuesday, Israel arrested two prominent Palestinian organizers of weekly protests against Israel's West Bank security barrier.
Activists accuse Israel of trying to stifle legitimate political dissent with a widening arrest campaign. Dozens of protesters have been rounded up since the summer.
The West Bank has been largely pacified and the barrier protests in the villages of Naalin and Bilin are among the last pockets of unrest. The barrier separates Palestinians from nearly 10 percent of the West Bank, in what Palestinians view as a land grab.
Israel says it built the barrier to keep out terrorists, and considers the protests illegal.
Early Tuesday, the military arrested one man in Bilin and three in Naalin, including two protest organizers.