Palestinians: Don't Start Peace Talks 'From Scratch'

The chief Palestinian negotiator said Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must resume peace talks from the point where they ended under Israel's previous, more moderate government.

Ahmed Qureia told reporters at his office just east of Jerusalem that talks cannot "start from scratch," but Netanyahu wants to restart the process at the beginning.

Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, directed a year of wide-ranging negotiations with the Palestinians that touched on a series of sensitive issues. No agreements were made public, and Israeli and Palestinian officials disagree on the scope of the understandings.

Netanyahu says Israel is ready to resume negotiations but refuses to be bound to Olmert's reported concessions. Palestinians say they turned down his offer of a state in Gaza, more than 90 percent of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem.

In a major policy speech Sunday, Netanyahu confirmed that such an offer was rejected.

In that speech, Netanyahu for the first time endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state. However, he listed a series of conditions rejected by the Palestinians, including a refusal to share control over the holy city of Jerusalem, demilitarization and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Israel-Palestinian talks followed the 2007 peace summit between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Annapolis, Maryland. Their basis was the internationally backed 2003 "road map" peace plan, which called for a three-stage process for negotiations toward a Palestinian state.

The plan quickly bogged down in the first stage, which required the Palestinians to beef up security and halt militant attacks, and which demanded that Israel freeze settlement construction in the West Bank.

Israel still insists it needs to continue construction inside existing settlements to accommodate the needs to the settlers, putting it at odds with the Obama administration, which is demanding a complete freeze.

On Tuesday, Michael Oren, Israel's incoming ambassador to the U.S. said he believed his government could agree with Washington to allow some construction to continue.

"I think there is flexibility on both sides. and I'm confident that we can work this out. I think that both the Obama administration and Israel want to move forward on the peace process. We don't want to get caught up in this issue," Oren told The Associated Press.

Netanyahu is expected to discuss settlements next week in Europe with the White House Mideast envoy, George Mitchell.

Nearly 300,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, along with 180,000 Israelis in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The Palestinian seek both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future state.