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Israeli PM offers conditional settlements freeze

• The Associated Press via The Raw Story
Israel's prime minister on Monday offered to extend a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, but only if the Palestinians meet his demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

With the proposal, Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to deliver a creative way to end an impasse over settlement construction that has stalled Mideast peace talks just a month after they were launched at the White House. But with its tough conditions, it was swiftly rejected by the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has been under heavy international pressure to renew a just-expired 10-month slowdown on West Bank settlement construction. The Palestinians say they will walk away from the talks if the curbs do not remain in place.

Netanyahu, who leads a pro-settler coalition of religious and nationalist parties, has so far resisted the calls, but has signaled he is open to a compromise. U.S. mediators have been offering a series of vague assurances on the security and diplomatic fronts to mollify Israel, but so far a deal has been elusive.

In a policy speech to parliament, Netanyahu said he would renew the settlement curbs if the Palestinians recognize the Jewish connection to Israel.

"If the Palestinian leadership would say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, I will be willing to convene my government and ask for an additional suspension," he said in a speech that was repeatedly heckled by Arab lawmakers.

Netanyahu has repeatedly made similar demands in the past, though he has never explicitly linked it to the settlement issue. On Sunday, Netanyahu's Cabinet passed a bill that would require non-Jewish immigrants to pledge allegiance to the "Jewish and democratic" state of Israel in order to receive citizenship.

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