June 23, 2010 - 12:00am

JERUSALEM, June 22 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians on Tuesday for the absence of direct peace talks and insisted negotiations should resume right away "without delay and without preconditions".

Israeli-Palestinian talks were renewed on an indirect basis last month under U.S. sponsorship, after an 18-month hiatus since a war in Gaza and disputes over Jewish settlement building in occupied land.

Netanyahu has said he prefers direct talks, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demands a full settlement freeze before full-fleged negotiations may be held.

In a speech to fundraisers from the United States and other countries, ahead of planned July 6 talks with President Barack Obama in Washington, Netanyahu said Israel "has made every effort to resume the peace talks".

"The Palestinians, regrettably, have made every effort not to resume the peace talks," Netanyahu said. "We should begin direct talks for peace now, without delay and without preconditions," he added.

Palestinian officials made no immediate comment. Abbas has rejected a temporary freeze in building Jewish enclaves which Netanyahu declared last year, calling the move -- which excludes the Jerusalem area -- insufficient.

Israel drew fresh world criticism on Monday for a local planning board's ratification of a plan to raze Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to make way for a housing project in the Silwan district next to the old walled city.

The plan calls for constructing about 1,000 homes in the area, and for razing about 20 Palestinian homes Israel says were built without a permit.

Palestinians say building permits are impossible to obtain from Israel. The Obama administration has publicly appealed to Netanyahu not to demolish Palestinian homes.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States was concerned about the Jerusalem project, calling it an action that "adds to the risk of violence."

Palestinian leaders denounced the project as another attempt by Israel to cement its claim to Jerusalem, whose eastern sector it captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move that is not recognised internationally.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017