RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinians appealed to the United States on Thursday to raise pressure on Israel, saying an Israeli plan to halt new construction in the West Bank was insincere.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top presidential adviser, said he hopes U.S. envoy George Mitchell can bring about what he called "a real peace process" that would halt all settlement construction. Mitchell is expected in the region soon in his latest attempt to bring the sides back to the negotiating table.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month halt to new construction in West Bank settlements as a step toward restarting Mideast peace negotiations.
The Palestinians swiftly rejected the plan because it did not include a building freeze in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, the sector of the city they want as the capital of a future state, and because it would not apply to some 3,000 homes already under construction.
"Netanyahu's declaration yesterday doesn't signal any intention of Israel to go through a genuine and serious peace process because it doesn't include a serious settlement freeze," Abed Rabbo said.
He said a "genuine peace process" must include a complete settlement freeze and guarantees that future borders be based on the lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Netanyahu says such matters must be resolved in negotiations.
"We believe that Mitchell can continue his efforts to have a real peace process," he said.
Since taking office, the Obama administration has been urging the sides to resume peace talks, which broke down late last year. In Washington, Mitchell welcomed the Israeli move but said it fell short of a full settlement freeze.
The Palestinians have refused to talk until all settlement construction ceases.
Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, also said he hopes the Americans can bring the sides together.
"I believe the talks will be renewed after the Americans make their proposal. The alternative is diplomatic stagnation that could result in violence," Barak told Israel Radio.
Barak later instructed the military to issue the order to freeze new construction in West Bank settlements. He also approved the building of 28 schools in West Bank settlements. Netanyahu said Wednesday that some schools already planned for construction would not be suspended.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a settler himself, said Israel has gone as far as it could and now it was up to the Palestinians to respond positively.
Netanyahu also faces fierce opposition at home from pro-settler groups and even within his own hard-line coalition.
Dani Dayan, leader of the West Bank settlers' council, accused Netanyahu of capitulating to American demands and getting nothing in return for his concessions.
"We feel that he is going in a very slippery slope in which he is betraying his own beliefs," he told The Associated Press. "We will do everything in our capacity to keep building, to keep developing our communities, and I am optimistic that we will prevail."
About 300,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it, a step no nation has recognized. Trying to cement its claim, Israel built new quarters around east Jerusalem, where 180,000 Israelis now live. Palestinians denounce them as settlements, but Israel considers them neighborhoods.
The militant Hamas group, which controls the Gaza Strip, also condemned the partial Israeli settlement freeze.
"It's a cosmetic step," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told a local Gaza Web site. "It aims to restart pointless negotiations ... without any real cost."