The Palestinians have told the United States they will accept nothing less than a total freeze in Jewish colony building ahead of a conference on statehood, a top Palestinian official said.
Western diplomats say Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under Western and Arab pressure to go beyond the partial freeze he was expected to announce before the US-sponsored conference this month as a way to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The diplomats say Olmert sought to exempt the occupied West Bank's major colony blocs, which Israel intends to keep under any final peace deal. Washington was cool to that idea, an Israeli source said.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he sent a letter to the Bush administration on Friday demanding that Israel fully meet its obligations under a long-stalled roadmap peace plan.
The roadmap demands a freeze on "all settlement [colony] activity", including so-called "natural growth" of existing colonies. It also calls on the Palestinians to rein in fighters.
"Enough games. We want to see an end to settlement [colony] expansion and natural growth," Erekat said.
He did not make clear what the Palestinians would do if the demand was not met, putting the onus on the United States and international community to hold Israel to its road map commitments.
About 270,000 Jewish colonists live in the West Bank among 2.5 million Palestinians. The World Court has branded all the colonies on land captured by Israel in the 1967 war as illegal. Freezing all colony construction might help encourage key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia to attend.
The Saudis are expected to take a position after a planned meeting of Arab League foreign ministers on November 22, Palestinian officials said.
Palestinian officials said the Annapolis, Maryland, conference would begin on November 26. The main session will take place the following day, Israeli officials said.
Olmert plans to ask his Cabinet tomorrow to approve the release of around 400 Palestinian prisoners, short of the 2,000 requested by Abbas.
It is unclear how any future deal would be implemented with the Palestinian territories divided. Hamas Islamists seized the Gaza Strip in June, while Abbas's Fatah faction still dominates the West Bank.
Preparations for the conference have been marred by disputes between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators over a joint document meant to address in general terms "core" issues like borders, and the future of Jerusalem and millions of Palestinian refugees. ( Gulf )