Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today offered immediate peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “to advance the peace process.” Palestinian officials have called for Israel to halt construction of settlements in the West Bank as a precondition of talks, which Netanyahu has been unwilling to accept.
Abbas again rejected the offer of talks without the settlement halt. Top negotiator Saeb Erekat said he did not believe that Netanyahu’s offer was a serious attempt at a peace deal, saying it was part of Israel’s public relations effort with the West. He added that the Palestinians would not accept any US-brokered deal that allowed Israel to continue settlement construction.
The US and other Western governments have called on Israel to halt the settlement expansion, and the European Union today called for a deadline after which the United Nations would recognize Palestinian statehood even if Israel didn’t. The Israeli Foreign Ministry slammed the comments as “dangerous” and said they would hurt the chances of reaching a deal.
Netanyahu also demanded today that the Palestinians relinquish any right to return as a prerequisite for any peace deal, saying that the acceptance of Israel as a “Jewish state” was “the key to achieving peace with out neighbors.”