JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned on Sunday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s commitment to peace, saying it was time to negotiate now that Israel has imposed a partial freeze on Jewish settlements.
“It is not clear to me whether the Palestinian Authority, its leaders, its leader is ready to enter negotiations,” Netanyahu told reporters in the southern city of Eilat.
“I think they need to decide to enter negotiations, because only if we start them, we can finish them,” he said.
Netanyahu’s security cabinet has announced a 10-month moratorium on some building in West Bank settlements. The announcement was welcomed by the United States but it fell short of Palestinian demands.
In an interview last week with Argentina’s Clarin newspaper while on a tour of Latin America, Abbas reiterated his demand for a full halt to settlement construction as a condition for reviving negotiations and said he did not believe Netanyahu was looking for peace.
Under Netanyahu’s plan, no new residential building permits would be issued and no new residential construction could start for 10 months in “Judea and Samaria,” biblical terms Israel uses for the West Bank excluding annexed areas around Jerusalem.
However, some 3,000 homes already approved or under construction would be completed during that time.
The United States has been pressing Israel to limit settlement activities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank but has said there should be no preconditions for talks suspended since December.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and annexed areas around Jerusalem among 2.7 million Palestinians. Settlements, Palestinian fear, could deny them a viable state they want to build in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Writing by Joseph Nasr, Editing by Alison Williams