JERUSALEM — Israel on Wednesday proposed a 10-month halt to new construction in West Bank settlements as a step toward restarting Mideast peace negotiations.
Washington welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer, but the Palestinians swiftly rejected it because it did not include a building freeze in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the mainly Arab sector of the city they want as the capital of a future state.
The Obama administration welcomed the Israeli decision, but coolly.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement saying the Israeli decision was a helpful move toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The administration's special envoy for Mideast peace, former Sen. George Mitchell, also welcomed the move but said it fell short of a full settlement freeze.
"But it is more than any Israeli government has done before and can help movement toward agreement between the parties," he said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded a total halt to settlement construction before peace talks can resume.
Netanyahu said the "far-reaching and painful step" was designed to "encourage resumption of peace talks with our Palestinian neighbors." He added: "Israel's government has made an important step toward peace today. Let us make peace together."
The freeze applies only to new housing, meaning about 3,000 units under construction can be finished.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said there was nothing new in Netanyahu's announcement. "This is not a moratorium," he said. "Unfortunately, we hoped he would commit to a real settlement freeze so we can resume negotiations, and he had a choice between settlements and peace and he chose settlements."