Palestinians argue Quartet call requires settlement freeze

The Palestinians on Sunday dismissed Israel's welcome of a Quartet call for the resumption of peace talks, saying the peace proposal requires Israel to halt settlement construction.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, speaking to AFP from Cairo, said that a statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office was "an exercise in deceiving the international community."

"If he accepts the Quartet statement then he must announce a halt to settlement activity, including natural growth, and accept the principle of the 1967 borders because this is what was clearly demanded by the Quartet statement."

Erakat spoke after Israel said it welcomed the call from the international grouping for peace talks to begin within a month, with the goal of reaching a deal before the end of 2012.

"Israel welcomes the Quartet's call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions, as called for by both [US] President [Barack] Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu," a statement from the premier's office said.

"While Israel has some concerns, it will raise them at the appropriate time. Israel calls on the Palestinian Authority to do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay," the statement said.

But the Palestinians, who say they will not hold talks unless Israel freezes settlements and sets clear parameters for new negotiations, argue that the Quartet call does impose conditions before the resumption of discussions.

They point to the proposal's reference to the 2003 Road Map, which included a call for the cessation of violence and a halt to settlement construction.

"Netanyahu will not convince anyone unless he announces his commitment to implementing the Israel's commitments under the Road Map and the Quartet statement," Erakat said Sunday.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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