Israel might renew a moratorium on building Jewish settlements in the West Bank after its end last month abruptly froze peace talks with the Palestinians,
Israel's new ambassador to the United Nations said on Monday.
In an interview with Reuters, envoy Meron Reuben also said it was too soon to declare that the U.S.-brokered negotiations, aimed at reaching a deal within a year to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, were dead.
The talks began on Sept. 2, but the Palestinians suspended them after a 10-month moratorium on housing starts in West Bank settlements expired on Sept. 26.
Last week, Israel's government announced a plan to erect more homes in two urban areas settled by Jews in a part of the West Bank annexed by Israel to Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war in a move never accepted by the international community.
Speaking after a UN Security Council Middle East debate in which a string of countries, including the United States, criticized the end of the moratorium, Reuben said there had been a "total and utter misunderstanding" of the freeze, which had always been planned to last 10 months.
"All of a sudden our self-imposed moratorium became the only thing in town and became the precondition for the continuation of talks, when the talks were started with no preconditions," he said.
But, he added, "I'm not saying that there might not be another continuation of, another prolongation of the moratorium."
"The government is looking into possibilities and different ways of seeing where to take the peace process and how to take it from here," he added.
Reuben declined to say when or under what circumstances Israel might continue the moratorium, saying, "That will have to be the decision made by the Israeli cabinet."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition is dominated by right-wing parties, and the United States has acknowledged the political risks he faces in pressing ahead with talks with the Palestinians, who fear settlements will deny them a viable state.
Israeli political sources have said much could depend on whether the United States, bidding to keep the talks alive, opts to sweeten incentives to Israel to agree to a proposed 60-day partial building moratorium.
Reuben, a career diplomat who formerly served as Israeli ambassador to Colombia, urged patience.
"Everybody's doing a post-mortem to a process that has only just started," he said. "I'm not so sure that the patient's dead."
"So I think that time must still be given to all sides concerned to see where we're going. It's a picture postcard at this moment in time. Wait for all the picture postcards to be put in place, and we'll see what happens."