Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected an offer by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to restart peace talks in exchange for a six-month Jewish building freeze in eastern Jerusalem, reported Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper.
The proposal was passed to Israel via American mediators less than a day before the arrival of US Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
Mitchell was expected to pressure Israel to accept Abbas' offer in order to get back to the negotiating table, but Israeli officials noted that Israel has already made several large gestures, all of which have been rejected by the Palestinians.
Nearly two months ago, Netanyahu implemented a 10-month Jewish building freeze in Judea and Samaria, and was praised by the Obama Administration for taking such a step toward peace. But the Palestinians insisted it was not enough, and the Americans immediately began applying pressure on Israel to come up with additional concessions.
But Israeli officials told the newspaper that no prime minister can agree to a building freeze in Jerusalem and expect to remain in office. The vast majority of Israelis oppose surrendering any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, even as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.
Israeli commentators have faulted US President Barack Obama for radicalizing Abbas' positions and making it increasingly more difficult to restart peace talk, let alone reach a peace agreement. By de facto agreeing with the Palestinians that current Israeli gestures are not enough, and by pressuring Netanyahu to give more, Obama has raised the minimum Abbas must demand, even if he was ready to make peace for less.