Palestinians confirm Israel offered partial West Bank settlement freeze in return for talks 23Oct11 October 23, 2011

Haaretz  -  21 October 2011

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to freeze government construction in West Bank settlements as well as construction on government land there in return for an agreement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume direct peace talks.

Erekat told the Associated Press that the proposal was offered to the Palestinians via a third party and that the Palestinians rejected the proposal because it only applied to government construction and most settlement construction is carried out by private contractors.

“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.

Erekat’s statements confirmed an earlier Haaretz report about the offer of a government construction settlement freeze.

According to a senior Israeli official, Abbas had not yet responded, but he has been threatening to resign if there is no diplomatic progress in the next three months.

The Prime Minister’s office said, however, that Netanyahu did not offer an additional freeze. According to the PMO, Israel’s position had not changed, they continued to offer an immediate start to direct talks with the Palestinian Authority with no preconditions.

The senior Israeli official said a new proposal was relayed to Abbas on Wednesday by Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, who arrived on a surprise visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. She was sent by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has launched a mediation effort in an attempt to break the deadlock in the peace process.

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