erekat - Dan Keinan - Dec 29 2008
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a file photo. Photo by Dan Keinan
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Top officials in the Palestinian Authority confirmed over the weekend a report published in Haaretz on Friday of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to freeze government construction in the West Bank in return for the Palestinians' agreeing to resume direct peace talks.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Associated Press that the Palestinians rejected the proposal, which he said was delivered through a third party, because it only applied to building carried out by the state, whereas most construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank is done by private contractors.

"If Netanyahu wants to resume negotiations, he has to say that settlement building will stop. Either it stops or it doesn't stop," Erekat said.

On Friday Haaretz disclosed that Netanyahu's offer was relayed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, who arrived in the region on Tuesday on a surprise visit, as part of an initiative by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to break the deadlock in the peace process.

Santos has called U.S. President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon to brief them on what he said was the "progress" achieved by Holguin during her visit to Israel and the PA.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rodeina, meanwhile, has called Netanyahu's offer a gimmick aimed at misleading the international community and that proves that Israel is not ready for peace.

On Wednesday envoys from the Quartet - the United States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations - are due to arrive for a round of separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials that both parties say will probably be fruitless.

Security Council changes

In related news, diplomatic officials and news analysts in New York have said that the new composition of the UN Security Council after the election Friday of temporary members to the body will be more friendly to the United States and less inclined to vote for Palestinian inclusion in the council.

Pakistan, Morocco, Togo and Guatemala were elected in a secret ballot; a second vote early this week will give the fifth place to either Azerbaijan or Slovenia, neither of which garnered the necessary majority on Friday to win in the first round.

Guatemala, which replaces Brazil on the council, is considered more amenable to U.S. influence than that country. Morocco, too, is expected to show understanding for the U.S. despite being an Arab League member.

Lebanon, Nigeria, Gabon, Bosnia and Brazil come off the council in January.