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New offer, no agreement over Israel settlements

/ Source: news services

The Palestinians swiftly rejected an offer Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to renew a freeze on West Bank settlement construction in exchange for recognizing Israel as a Jewish nation-state.

"If the Palestinian leadership will say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and request a further suspension," Netanyahu told parliament.

Netanyahu has been under heavy international pressure to renew a just-expired slowdown on settlement construction.

The Palestinians have said they will walk away from negotiations if the settlement curbs aren't extended.

There was immediate speculation that the conditional offer was unlikely to resolve the impasse over settlements, which stalled peace talks just a month after they were launched.

Only moments after the proposal was revealed, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said they had rejected it.

Netanyahu's comments came amid a spat over the Israeli government's approval of a bill to require new citizens to pledge a loyalty oath to a "Jewish and democratic" state.

Arab lawmakers called the bill, approved by the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, racist because it will not be required of Jews being naturalized.

In general, the Arab minority — making up one in five Israelis — view the oath as a provocation aimed at further making them second-class citizens in a country where they already feel discriminated against.

Netanyahu said the bill, which must still be voted on by parliament, reflected the essence of Israel at a time when many are trying to blur the connection between the Jewish people and their homeland.

"The state of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and is a democratic state in which all its citizens — Jews and non-Jews — enjoy full equal rights," he said. "Whoever wants to join us, has to recognize us."