Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won't bend on his opposition to a settlement freeze when he meets the American and Palestinian leaders in New York, a top aide said Monday.
The tough Israeli line could signal trouble for Tuesday's summit, where President Barack Obama is bringing together Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in hopes of relaunching peace talks.
Israeli and Palestinian officials, feuding over the ongoing settlement construction in West Bank, have warned that no breakthroughs are expected.
Abbas has refused to resume negotiations without an Israeli commitment to freeze construction in the West Bank, a call echoed by the U.S. administration. The Palestinians say the meeting does not constitute negotiations.
Netanyahu's media adviser, Nir Hefetz, said the prime minister would hold firm to his opposition to a settlement freeze.
"You have never heard the prime minister say that he will freeze settlements. The opposite is true," Hefetz Army Radio ahead of Netanyahu's departure on Monday.
"He sees the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria as a Zionist enterprise and he sees the settlers ... as his brothers, our brothers, and acts accordingly," Hefetz said, using the Hebrew terms for the West Bank.
Though some Israeli leaders may see halting settlement as a constructive step, Hefetz said, "the prime minister is not one of those people."
Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in settlements built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians and the international community see the settlements as obstacles to peace because they are built on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
A settlement freeze was a key requirement of the U.S.-backed "road map," a 2003 peace plan accepted by Israel and the Palestinians.
Trying to please both the U.S. administration and his hardline coalition allies, Netanyahu has offered to slow settlement construction for a limited period of time, to about 3,000 apartments over several months. But he has refused to accept restrictions on building in east Jerusalem, which Israel sees as part of its capital.
Will Obama weigh in?
A top Palestinian negotiator said Monday that he hoped the New York meeting would prod Netanyahu toward halting construction.
"Palestinians welcome the personal intervention of President Obama particularly in light of Israel's continuing rejection of a comprehensive settlement freeze and a resumption of permanent status negotiations on all core issues without exception," Saeb Erekat said.
In a statement from Damascus Monday, the militant Hamas group, which rules Gaza, joined other radical Palestinian movements in condemning the meeting, calling it "a glaring cover for the (Israeli) enemy government's aggressive attitudes and its denial of the rights of our people."
By agreeing to meet Netanyahu, Abbas has "submitted to the Zionist-American will," the statement said.
Hamas control of Gaza is considered an impediment to peace efforts. Hamas does not accept a Jewish state as part of an Islamic Middle East, though some Hamas leaders have indicated they could come to an agreement with Israel as a temporary measure.