Palestinians have slammed Israel's rejection of a French-sponsored initiative to kick-start peace efforts, which have been moribund since April 2014, saying it was tantamount to "a refusal to any proposal that could lead to a resolution to the conflict".
"Israel is challenging the international community and its adherence to the two-state solution," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Its occupation is the source of chaos and insecurity."
In a statement released on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel is ready to begin talks with the Palestinians immediately without preconditions.
"Israel adheres to its position that the best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is direct, bilateral negotiations," the statement read. "Any other diplomatic initiative distances the Palestinians from direct negotiations."
The Israeli announcement comes about a month before France holds an international summit of ministers from more than 20 countries, which will discuss ways to relaunch talks between Israelis and Palestinians – neither of whom have been invited to the meeting.
The summit, which will include the "Quartet" of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States, is projected to lay the groundwork for an international conference in the second half of 2016, which will be attended by the Israelis and the Palestinians.
A spate of attacks
The conference is being held against the background of a spate of attacks that have left more than 209 Palestinians and 33 Israelis and foreign nationals dead since October 2015.
As the French initiative took shape, Palestinian President Abbas decided to hold off on plans to submit a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank.
Shortly after Israel's announcement, Palestinians said they would "continue to support the realisation of an international peace conference," according to chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"The Israeli government's call for "bilateral negotiations" is not a call for the achievement of the two-state solution, but an attempt at legitimising its settlement enterprise and the imposition of an apartheid regime," Erekat said.
He added that the Israeli rejection of the French initiative came just as authorities informed the Palestinians that the army would continue to storm Area A of the West Bank.
The Oslo Accords signed between the two sides divided the West Bank into three zones, with Area A under Palestinian jurisdiction.
Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative, said Israel's decision proved that "an alternative national strategy that focused on popular resistance and the boycott movement" was essential, in addition to reconciling feuding parties Hamas and Fatah.
Source: Al Jazeera