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Palestinians Demand Full Settlement Freeze

RAMALLAH, West Bank  - The Palestinians on Saturday insisted on a full Israeli settlement freeze before renewing peace efforts, putting a damper on a US call to revive talks with no preconditions.

A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site in the West Bank settlement of Beit Arieh. The Palestinians have insisted on a full Israeli settlement freeze before renewing peace efforts, putting a damper on a US call to revive talks with no preconditions. (AFP photo) "A resumption of peace talks requires the complete halt of settlements" in the occupied West Bank, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

Erakat also demanded that Israel comply with its commitment under the 2003 international roadmap for peace that calls for a "halt to all settlement activity including natural growth and Jerusalem."

Negotiations should be picked up from the point they were left when they broke down in December 2008, he said.

So far, there has been no reaction from the Israeli government.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Israelis and Palestinians to resume the peace talks without preconditions, in Washington's latest bid to return the sides to the negotiations table.

Clinton backed the key Palestinian aim of creating a state along the borders that existed before the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, but said the lines would be modified through mutually agreed land swaps, presumably to account for some Israeli settlements that would remain.

The Palestinian stand was backed by the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Germany who met in Riyadh on Saturday.

"The illegal settlements ... constitute a major obstacle to peace talks," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in a joint news conference with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.

Westerwelle said a settlement freeze was part of the roadmap. "This is ... also the position expressed by the European Union as a whole," he said.

The Palestinians have insisted the borders of their promised state encompass all of their land Israel occupied in 1967, including mostly Arab east Jerusalem -- which Israel later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community -- as their capital.

"Resolving borders resolves settlements. Resolving Jerusalem resolves settlements," the chief US diplomat told reporters after meeting Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Washington.

"We are working with the Israelis, the (Palestinian Authority), and the Arab states to take the steps needed to relaunch the negotiations as soon as possible and without preconditions," Clinton said.

The parties can reach a solution that "reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognised borders," she said.

President Barack Obama administration's efforts to revive the peace talks have so far been frustrated despite heavy pressure on Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states to make positive gestures.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in November a partial suspension of settlement activity in the West Bank but not in occupied east Jerusalem as a gesture ahead of the resumption of talks.

The Palestinians have nevertheless repeatedly insisted on a full suspension of settlement construction in all land occupied in 1967.

Obama's special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who said earlier this week that peace talks should not last more than two years, is expected to return to the region later this month to push the latest US initiative.

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