With conference nearing, United States pushes Israel to meet obligations

.JERUSALEM (AP) – The United States is pressuring Israel to meet a long-standing obligation to freeze all West Bank settlement construction ahead of a high-profile Mideast conference, rejecting Israel’s stance that it be allowed to continue building in existing communities, Israeli officials said Sunday.

The officials said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet would discuss the settlement issue on Monday, though it remained unclear whether the ministers would endorse any changes in policy.

The United States has been urging Israel to make a series of gestures to the Palestinians ahead of the Mideast peace conference, which is expected to take place next week in Annapolis, Md.

Key Arab governments will announce Friday if they will attend the conference, said an Arab League official Sunday. Diplomats familiar with the governments’ deliberations hinted that despite reservations about the conference, they would probably attend.

The nations’ ministers, however, will insist that a final statement from the Annapolis meeting include an Israeli agreement to a Saudi-sponsored land-for-peace deal proposed by Arabs in 2002, said another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

The American proposals have included an Israeli freeze on West Bank settlement construction and a large-scale release of Palestinian prisoners. Israel holds roughly 9,000 Palestinian prisoners.