PANAMA CITY: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Saturday that halting Israeli settlement construction was "vital" to resume long-stalled peace talks.
The Israeli government signed off on plans Thursday to build nearly 300 new settler homes near Ramallah, just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly ordered a freeze on tenders for new West Bank settler homes to avoid harming US-led efforts to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.
"For us, stopping settlement construction is vital, important and essential to really sit down and talk about the subject of negotiations," Malki said.
"Without this, it will be difficult, if not impossible to find a Palestinian interested in sitting down and talking with the Israelis.
"It is not a Palestinian condition. It is a requirement by the international community," he added.
Malki was speaking in Spanish to reporters during a press conference in Panama City as he wrapped up a tour of Central America.
US Secretary of State John Kerry plans to make his fourth trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories on May 21 or 22 for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Kerry, along with "all international leaders as well as the Israelis, knows that any potential to resume negotiations requires first that Israeli completely stop all settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories," Malki said.
But he noted that Kerry had "taken the responsibility to talk to the Israelis to find a solution to the conflict." Malki said the chief US diplomat had spoken five times with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas during the past month and a half.
The foreign minister pointed to "different and contradictory versions" by Israel about a settlement freeze.
"You do not know what is the truth and who is telling the truth," Malki added.
Direct peace talks collapsed shortly after they were launched in September 2010 because of an intractable dispute over Israel's settlement building, which is widely accepted as a violation of international law.
The Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes construction on land they want for a future state.