Israel has refrained from setting pre-conditions for a return to direct negotiations with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. He added in a interview with the Post ­ for the Jewish New Year just hours after returning from his five-day trip to the US, that issue of settlements would have to be discussed in direct negotiations, which he called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume.

"What the Palestinians have done is cherry-pick one of the final core issues and put [it] up front as a pre-condition. I could do the same. I could do it with rehabilitating a refugee camp, I could do it with demanding recognition of the Jewish state," said Netanyahu.

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"So far I haven't done that because I want to get into direct negotiations and not create obstructions to entering them.

"The Palestinians, by coming back to the issue of the settlement freeze, indicate that they don't really want to negotiate. And remember, in an unprecedented action, which wasn't easy, I gave them nearly a year of a freeze on new construction in the settlements. It didn't help any, did it? So it's a pretext. I mean, they use it again and again, but I think a lot of people see it as a ruse to avoid direct negotiations."

Regarding the issue of the Palestinians dismantling refugee camps, Netanyahu said that he raised the issue in talks with the US.

"We actually discussed this at one time: Why don't they take a couple of streets in Balata, near Nablus, and fix them up, and show they are giving up the idea of going back to Jaffa or Acre," said Netanyahu.

"I discussed it with the Americans when [former US Mideast envoy George] Mitchell was coming here. I said, 'Look, I could raise my own preconditions.' If you have good faith and you want to resolve a problem, you don't set up obstacles to entering negotiations, you remove those problems. The Palestinians consistently insert and reinsert this issue in order to avoid negotiations."

The full interview will be published in Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post.

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