Netanyahu Offers to Freeze Government Construction in West Bank

Jerusalem, Oct. 23 – The Quartet on the Middle East will hold separate talks with Israelis and Palestinians this week as part of another push for peace. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel is willing to enter into negotiations “anytime, anywhere,” while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has set preconditions on entering the talks. The Palestinians’ placing of preconditions, which represent a departure from the Oslo Accords agreements on negotiations, deal mostly with Israel’s construction policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

For more than a year Abbas has pursued unilateral diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. The Quartet and Israel deemed Abbas and the PA’s maneuver counter to peace efforts and have asked Abbas to return to the negotiating table instead. Abbas said that he will not withdraw the PA’s bid for U.N. membership “even if the negotiations with Israel are renewed.” He was speaking to local leaders and to Egypt’s military ruler, Mohammad Hussein Tantawi, in Cairo on Saturday (Oct. 22).

Abbas also said he would agree to the resumption of peace talks “immediately” if Israel accepts the peace proposal the Quartet put forward last month. The Quartet called for the parties to hold a preparatory meeting within a month of their framework statement, meaning by Oct. 23. The Quartet drafted the statement alongside the U.N. General Assembly in mid-September, which is when the Palestinians formally launched their U.N. statehood bid.

Netanyahu offered to “freeze government construction in the West Bank in return for the Palestinians' agreeing to resume direct peace talks,” the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Friday (Oct. 21),

However, the Palestinians balked at Netanyahu’s offer.

Chief Palestinian negotiations Saeb Erekat said they rejected Netanyahu’s offer because it applied to building done by the state, whereas settlement building in the West Bank is often carried out through private contractors.

Israel’s leaders have countered Abbas’ insistence on preconditions by saying that they too have goals they would like to reach but through the platform of negotiations.

The Quartet’s position is that negotiations along 1967 lines with mutually-agreed land swaps as well as the Palestinian renouncement of violence can form the basis for future peace agreements.

The Palestinian bid is currently being examined by the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council rotates its temporary members each year. Last Friday (Oct. 21), Pakistan, Morocco, Togo and Guatemala were elected to the UNSC. The fifth new member will be either Azerbaijan or Slovenia.

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