Palestinian officials have rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to renew a partial freeze on settlement building if Palestinians recognise Israel as "a Jewish state".
REUTERS - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered on Monday to renew a partial settlement construction freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Palestinian officials swiftly rejected the proposal -- Israel's latest attempt to revive direct peace talks after the Palestinians quit the negotiating table to protest at the resumption of building in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu announced the offer three days after the Palestinians and Arab powers gave Washington a month to persuade Israel to renew a 10-month moratorium on settlement housing starts that expired on Sept. 26.
Netanyahu has resisted an extension and his comments marked the first time he has publicly suggested a new freeze could be implemented.
"If the Palestinian leadership will say unequivocally to its people that it recognises Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and request a further suspension," Netanyahu told parliament.
Netanyahu said Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was essential before a Palestinian state could be created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
However, Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said a return to U.S.-backed peace talks required a freeze on settlement building by Israel.
"The issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter," he told Reuters.
In a policy speech opening the winter session of parliament, Netanyahu also cited the need for strong measures to ensure Israel's security under any peace deal.
He said Israel was weighing U.S. proposals, including ideas touching on security, to salvage the negotiations.
A senior Israeli official has said Washington is seeking a two-month extension of the settlement building moratorium to give more time for direct diplomacy.
Palestinians view settlements, on land Israel occupied in a 1967 war, as an obstacle to the establishment of a viable and contiguous state.
Netanyahu has made recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a centre-piece of his government's policy.
Palestinians fear such a move could impede the rights of Palestinian refugees, who fled or were forced out of their homes in Israeli-Arab wars, to return to territory that is now Israel.
Date created : 2010-10-11