Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready to partially freeze West Bank settlement building if it will bring the PLO back to direct talks, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.Notice the precondition that has been added, almost unnoticed by the Western media, that Israel accept the so-called 1967 borders.
But the PLO said it was unaware of any such offer, and said that anything short of a full freeze would not be acceptable.
According to Haaretz, Netanyahu's offer was made on Wednesday in talks with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin.
During the meeting, which came a day after she held talks with President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, Holguin told Netanyahu that Abbas desperately needed a symbolic gesture on settlements if he was to return to negotiations, a senior Israeli official told the paper.
In response, Netanyahu said he would be "ready to make such a gesture if it would return Abbas to the negotiating table" and agreed to freeze all government-sponsored construction and all building on state land.
But he said he would not agree to freeze settlement activity by private developers on privately owned land -- which, according to a recent Palestinian study, constitutes around 80 percent of settlement activity.
The official said the offer would test whether or not Abbas was serious about returning to direct negotiations.
"Netanyahu said he was ready to test Abbas by making the gesture regarding settlements. 'If Abbas is serious about negotiations, he will renew direct talks,' Netanyahu said."
The Israeli official said the new proposal was relayed to Abbas on Wednesday, but PLO official Saeb Erekat on Friday said it was the first they had heard of it, and insisted that only a full halt to settlement, including in annexed East Jerusalem, would suffice.
"We want to hear officially from the Israeli government that they accept to stop settlement on all Palestinian lands, including in Jerusalem and natural growth, and to recognize the 1967 borders," Erekat told AFP.
And, sure enough, Erekat showed his intransigence and unwillingless to compromise when the offer became official:
PLO official Saeb Erekat has rejected the distinction between government and private construction in Israeli settlements, the premise of Israel's "offer" for a partial building freeze reported by Israeli media on Friday.Notice how Ma'an put the word "offer" iin scare quotes, as if Netanyahu isn't serious. Of course, there is an easy way to find out if he is - by accepting negotiations.
Will we be seeing any NYT editorials excoriating the PLO for their refusal to go back to the negotiating table?