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Palestinians accuse Israel of trickery as Netanyahu calls for return to peace talks

Israel gave its backing to an initiative cobbled together by the Quartet for the Middle East last month in a bid to avert Palestinian attempts to win statehood at the United Nations.The latest effort to resurrect the long-stalled Middle East peace process is almost certain to prove stillborn because it does not call for a freeze of Israeli settlement construction.The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly refused to resume peace talks unless Israel halts all new building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.Palestinians are understood to be dismayed that the Quartet — which comprises the United States, the European Union, the UN and Russia — has failed explicitly to repeat previous calls for a settlement freeze.The omission has delighted Israel, however. “Israel welcomes the Quartet call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions,” Mr Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.”Israel calls on the Palestinian Authority to do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay.”Mr Netanyahu, however, said that Israel had unspecified concerns about the plan, which it would raise “an appropriate time”.The Palestinians have not yet given a response to the Quartet but have repeated their insistence that Israel halt settlements and accept that territorial negotiations will be conducted on the basis of the pre-1967 armistice lines several times.Saeb Erekat, a leading Palestinian negotiator, dismissed Israel’s acceptance as a ruse.”Mr Netanyahu should put his money where his mouth is and announce he will stop settlements and accept a two-state solution based on 1967,” he said.”If he doesn’t accept this, it means he is playing a game of deception and public relations. No-one is going to swallow it.”Further raising questions about the viability of the plan, the Palestinian leadership has shown no inclination to withdraw its bid for statehood, which is presently before the UN Security Council.Its refusal to compromise on the issue has already had consequences, with Congress in the United States freezing nearly GBP 130 million earmarked in aid for the Palestinian Authority. Congress has threatened to cancel aid altogether if the statehood bid is not dropped.

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