On Thursday, Israeli Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin lambasted the Palestinian leadership, accusing them of using the issue of Israeli settlements as an excuse to end peace talks currently on hold in Washington.Rivlin made the comments during a meeting with French Senate president Gerard Larcher in Paris.

Rivlin told his French counterpart that the 500,000 Israeli settlers who live in the illegal settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not an obstacle to peace. “You can’t ignore the fact that Bush’s letter recognizes many of them,” Rivlin said. This was a reference to former US President George W. Bush, who had pushed for a settlement of the conflict that would allow the Israeli settlers to remain on the land they illegally seized from Palestinians — a settlement that would have been in violation of international law.

In response to Rivlin’s statement, Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, told an Italian news agency that the Palestinian Authority is not using the Settlement issue as excuse to end the peace process, saying that it is, in fact, Israel which is impeding peace by failing to live up to its obligations under international law and past signed agreements. Addressing Israel’s position, he said, “Israel interprets UN resolutions as mere recommendations.”

In addition, Fayyad proclaimed that the Israeli occupation of Palestine must end by next summer. “In 2011, we will celebrate 66 years of the United Nations and the United Nations will celebrate the birth of our nation,” he said, adding, “Palestinians need to build national institutions in the West Bank and prepare for an independent Palestinian state.”

It is estimated that today there are more than 500,000 Israelis living in the illegal settlements within the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to Amnesty International, in 2009, at least 600 Palestinians were displaced from East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank after their homes were demolished in order to construct Israeli settlements. In addition, Palestinian families evacuated from their homes have no right to alternative housing or compensation. Consequently, many are left homeless and destitute.