Abbas says Israeli settlement freeze not enough

Abbas says Israeli settlement freeze not enough

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas dismissed an Israeli plan to halt new construction of West Bank settlements as insufficient on Friday, saying it won't be enough to restart peace talks, AP reported.

The Palestinian president said during his first visit to Venezuela that "we can't accept the current Israeli government's concept for the negotiations."

Abbas said Wednesday's announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a 10-month halt to new construction in West Bank Jewish settlements "didn't bring anything new" because construction would continue in east Jerusalem and in the West Bank regardless of a freeze on new settlement building.

"The Israeli prime minister had to choose between peace and occupation," Abbas said in a speech to Venezuelan lawmakers. "Lamentably, he chose occupation."

Netanyahu's announcement came after U.S. pressure in an attempt to revive long-frozen peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. But Palestinians have demanded Israel completely halt Jewish settlement building.

Netanyahu's plan does not include a building freeze in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, a swath of the city the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state, and it would not apply to some 3,000 homes already under construction in the West Bank.

About 300,000 Israelis live in settlements across the West Bank, and an additional 180,000 Israelis live in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, a territory annexed to Israel after it seized it in the 1967 Mideast war.

Abbas earlier visited Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay to build support for efforts toward a Palestinian state.

Latin American leaders backed his calls for Israel to halt settlement construction and also to guarantee that future borders are based on lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Netanyahu says such matters must be resolved in negotiations.

The Palestinian leader was to meet on Friday with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has stepped squarely into Middle East politics this week by hosting both Abbas and the president of Iran.

Chavez denounced Israel as "a murderous arm of the Yankee empire" during a visit Wednesday by Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Chavez has been strengthening ties with Israel's adversaries while trading verbal barbs with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who predicted last week in Argentina that the people of Venezuela and Iran will soon get rid of their leaders.

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