Netanyahu offers conditional settlements freeze

By Ben Hubbard-Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel‘s prime minister offered to renew a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank on Monday, but only if the Palestinians meet his demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The proposal is the first time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly suggested a way to end an impasse over settlement construction that has stalled Mideast peace talks just a month after they were launched at the White House.

Palestinians swiftly rejected his condition.

Mr. Netanyahu has been under heavy international pressure to renew a just-expired 10-month moratorium on new West Bank settlement construction. The Palestinians say they will walk away from the talks if the curbs are lifted.

Mr. Netanyahu, who leads a pro-settler coalition of religious and nationalist parties, so far has resisted the calls, but he has signaled he is open to a compromise. U.S. mediators have been offering a series of vague assurances on the security and diplomatic fronts to mollify Israel, but a deal has been elusive.

Mr. Netanyahu laid out his proposal in a policy speech to parliament Monday.

“If the Palestinian leadership would say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, I will be willing to convene my government and ask for an additional suspension,” he said.

“As the Palestinians expect that we will recognize a Palestinian state as their national homeland, we are entitled to expect that they will recognize Israel as our national homeland,” he added.

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