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Palestinians Reject Israel's Offer on Settlement Freeze

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, center, speaks during a joint press conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, left, and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, right, after their meeting with the Palestinian President Mahmoud

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to extend a building freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank if the Palestinians agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The Israeli leader's offer Monday came as talks remained stalled between Israel and the Palestinians on the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinians last week said they would not return to negotiations after Israel refused to extend a partial freeze on construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that expired September 26.

Speaking to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that if the Palestinian leadership says unequivocally that it recognizes Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, he will ask his government to extend the building freeze.

He said he expects the Palestinians to take trust-building steps and convince the majority of Israelis who he said have, in the past ten years, lost trust in the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinians immediately dismissed Mr. Netanyahu's offer. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told VOA, Mr. Netanyahu's demands are unacceptable.

"I don't see the relevance between his need to stop settlement activities in compliance with international law as an occupying power and his demand for us to recognize his country and its religious character," Erekat said. "We have recognized the State of Israel as it exists and we cannot go further than that. But the fact that he needs to have a settlement freeze in order to resume the negotiations is an obligation for him."

In the past, the Palestinians have refused to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state out of concern that would bring discrimination against Arabs who live inside Israel and give up the rights of Palestinian refugees who were displaced upon the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

The aim of the talks - for the Palestinians - is to establish a Palestinian state. The Palestinians say the Israeli settlements encroach on land that would be part of that future state.

Many Israelis express concerns that a new Palestinian state could be a threat to Israel. They point to what happened in the Gaza Strip after Israel's 2005 pullout, when the militant Islamist group Hamas - whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state - seized power.