(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel should not receive any rewards if it agrees to halt illegal settlement expansion or takes other steps to advance the peace process, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Monday.
"Israel doesn't deserve rewards. Israel is in violation of international law and is an occupying power," Erekat told The Jerusalem Post. "I think when people make mistakes and they correct them, they are usually not rewarded."
He was responding to recent reports that several Arab states - with US prompting - are considering offering incentives to Israel if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commits himself to a total freeze on settlement expansion as part of a comprehensive peace plan.
Israel should stop expanding settlements "because it's an obligation," Erekat said.
Anonymous sources told London's Financial Times in a report published on Monday that several Arab states were discussing a plan that could include stepped up contacts, telecommunications links and airline access with the Jewish state if the US could get Israel to freeze settlement construction.
However, any Arab gestures would only be granted after the new US administration detailed a plan to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with steps required by both sides, the sources said.
The United States, too, is hopeful that Arab states will open direct telephone connections with Israel and allow Israeli commercial aircraft to fly over their territory, according to a Washington Post report published on Sunday.
A US official in Tel Aviv could not confirm the press reports on Monday and said that things would likely become clearer following Monday's meeting between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama in Washington.
Earlier this month, US Vice President Joe Biden urged Arab states to take steps that would demonstrate their sincerity to Israel.
"Now is the time for Arab states to make meaningful gestures to show the Israeli leadership and the people the promise of ending Israel's isolation in the region is real and genuine," he told attendees at an AIPAC conference.
However, a spokesman for the Arab League said the 22-member organization already had offered a large incentive to Israel - the 2002 Arab peace initiative.
"Normalization in return for peace, that's the essence of the initiative," Abdel Aleem al-Abayad told the Post. "We think the initiative is more than an adequate incentive for peace between Israel and the Arab countries and for peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
Similarly, a senior Jordanian official told the Post on Monday that such press reports were based on speculation.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with Obama on May 28, while Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is scheduled to meet with the US leader on May 26.
Obama has a choice between continuing a policy of double standards - "and push the region toward extremism and violence" - or telling Netanyahu to honor all his obligations stemming from the road map, Erekat said.
"Israel's obligations are very clear-cut," he said.
An Egyptian official said his country's position vis-Ã -vis the peace process was clear and would be conveyed to Obama.
The Egyptians support "the restart of [Israeli-Palestinian] negotiations, but with a clear political target, which is a two-state solution," he said Sunday on the condition of anonymity. "Not just negotiations for the sake of negotiations."
American support "is crucial" for peace to take hold in the region, he said.
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