(photo credit: Ariel Schalit/AP)
The United States at this time has not offered Israel a package of incentives to freeze new settlement construction for a second time, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Likud faction in the Knesset on Monday.
“At this moment we [the US and Israel] are not talking about this [a new moratorium],” Netanyahu said. His remarks were leaked to the press and not confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office.
PM: Direct talks are only way to reach genuine peace
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A government source said that Netanyahu is expected to discuss the impasse in the peace process with US Vice President Joe Biden when he meets with him in New Orleans next week.
It is possible that Netanyahu will also speak with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during that visit.
All issues regarding a freeze and the peace process are expected to be discussed during that visit.
In the interim, media rumors have continued to surface about American offers and Palestinian threats to push Israel to issue a second moratorium on new settlement construction and/or to halt construction all together for a period of 60 days.
Israel has insisted that direct negotiations are the best path to peace and should take place immediately without preconditions.
The Palestinians, in turn, have insisted that all settlement construction must be halted for such talks to take place and that barring this, they would turn to the United Nations.
The Palestinian Authority’s head negotiator, Saeb Erekat, renewed threats to seek unilateral statehood from the UN in an interview with the Palestinian Maan news agency on Monday.
The Palestinians’ preferred path is to negotiate a peace deal with Israel, but that is impossible as long as settlement construction continues, he said.
One plan is for Egypt to propose a joint Arab initiative at the UN, he said.
A second idea was to ask the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. If that failed, the Palestinians could ask the council to transfer the matter to the General Assembly through a procedure outlined in Resolution 377, Erekat said.
“When we talk about alternatives, this doesn’t mean failing in the talks, we want them to succeed,” Erekat said.
“The issue is not easy and negotiation is a tool that is used to solve problems, not a goal in itself. If Israel causes the talks to fail, then we will go to the other options,” he said.
Netanyahu told the Likud faction that such unilateral actions do not advance the cause of peace.
A government source said that when former PA chairman Yasser Arafat unilaterally declared a state in 1988, it was recognized by the Soviet Union, Muslim countries and parts of the developing world, but that did not change life on the ground for the Palestinians.
Unilateral statehood is “symbolic,” but it is not a substitute for direct talks, the source said.