The U.S. ambassador to Israel reaffirmed on Tuesday Washington's opposition to a Palestinian call to halt Israeli settlement building before peace negotiations can resume.
Facing renewed urging from international mediators to return to negotiations and defuse a row over his bid for a full seat at the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeated his demand for a settlement freeze first.
U.S. envoy Dan Shapiro said Washington had never favored making a freeze a condition for negotiations: "We've never set that, in this administration or any other, as a precondition for talks," he told Army Radio, in response to a question on whether he favored the Palestinian demand.
Shapiro noted that the United States has long opposed Israeli settlement in the West Bank, territory captured in a 1967war and where, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, Palestinians want to establish a state of their own.
But he added: "What we have said consistently is that we believe direct talks are the only way to resolve this conflict, and (it) can only be resolved by the parties themselves in those talks, and they should be entered without preconditions."
In New York on Monday, a divided UN Security Council met behind closed doors for its first discussion of last week's Palestinian application for full UN membership as a state -- a move seen as certain to fail due to Israeli and U.S. opposition, despite substantial support among other world governments.
Abbas repeated, on his return home from the United Nations on Sunday, his refusal to resume talks with Israel without a settlement freeze.
International mediators, trying to salvage the Middle East peace process, have urged preliminary negotiations be held within a month.
U.S.-brokered talks collapsed a year ago after Netanyahu refused to extend the partial construction freeze he had ordered under pressure from Washington to coax Abbas into talks.
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