One month after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent a letter that it was hoped would initiate efforts over frozen peace negotiations, Netanyahu rejected demands to halt Jewish settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories.’The content of (Netanyahu’s) letter did not represent grounds for returning to negotiations,’ stated Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. However on receipt of the letter the Palestinian and Israeli’s released a joint statement saying that both sides were “committed to achieving peace”

It has been suggested that both sides had not expected any significant progress ahead of the US presidential election in November despite the new national unity government that was formed last week between Netanyahu’s Likud party and the main opposition group, the centrist Kadima Party.

The head of Kadima, Shaul Mofaz, has long blamed Netanyahu for the failure of the peace talks and told reporters last week that entering new negotiations ‘was an iron condition for forming the unity government’.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, who also belongs to the Palestinian Executive Committee, said the Israeli letter ‘did not include clear answers about the central issues which are undermining the resumption of the peace process’.

Abed Rabbo cited the issues of settlements and Israel’s refusal to accept Palestinian demands for the creation of a Palestinian state, with minor territorial swaps, along the armistice line that existed before it captured the West Bank in a 1967 war. He also urged the “quartet” of Middle East peace sponsors (US, EU, UN & Russia) to intervene to get peace efforts back on track.

Previous US-sponsored peace talks unraveled after Netanyahu rejected Palestinian demands that he extend a partial settlement construction freeze he had introduced at Washington’s behest.

About 500,000 Israeli illegal settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem — territory the Palestinians want for an independent state and considered as such by the international community.

The settlements are considered illegal by the UN and the International Court of Justice, the highest UN legal body for disputes, and under the 4th Geneva Conventions. Israel rejects that position and cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank and Jerusalem.