JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would reinstate a West Bank construction freeze if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Netanyahu made the offer Monday in a wide-ranging speech at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session.
"If the Palestinian leadership will say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and request a further suspension," Netanyahu said. "Just as the Palestinians expect us to recognize their state, we expect reciprocal treatment."
The Palestinian Authority issued a statement rejecting Netanyahu’s offer immediately following the speech.
Netanyahu called the deal a "trust-building step." He said that such recognition was not a precondition to talks for Israel.
The prime minister said that he has floated the idea to the Palestinians, who have not been responsive to the idea.
"The United States is attempting other means to ensure that the talks take place," he said.
Netanyahu pointed out that Israel enforced a 10-month building freeze in the West Bank "with determination and without compromise," adding that "Unfortunately, the Palestinians wasted those 10 months as well. Now they demand that we continue the moratorium as a condition to continuing the talks. I hope they are not doing so to avoid making the real decisions necessary for a peace agreement."
In saying that a peace agreement must include a strong security arrangement, Netanyahu pointed out that Israel previously had peaceful relations with both Iran and Turkey, with whom Israel’s relations have "deteriorated against our will."
The statement by the Palestinians said they would return to peace talks in exchange for a freeze on building in the settlements.
"The issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas.