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Netanyahu Heads to US Amid Crisis in Peace Process


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Israel's leader is heading to the United States, but trouble is brewing back home with the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for Washington amid a deepening crisis in the peace process. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to step down because of Israel's refusal to freeze all settlement expansion.

Mr. Abbas, who rules the West Bank, is seen as a moderate alternative to the Islamic militant group Hamas. which controls the Gaza Strip. So Israel has urged him to back down from his threat not to run for re-election in January.

But Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says Israel has not given anything to Mr. Abbas.

Speaking at a conference in the West Bank, Erekat accused Israel of "stabbing" President Abbas "in the back."

Mr. Netanyahu, who will be in Washington for a speech to American Jewish leaders, opposes demands by the Palestinians and the United States for a complete freeze on settlement construction, offering a partial freeze instead. He says Israel is prepared to resume peace talks immediately, but Mr. Abbas is demanding concessions in advance.

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

"We are calling on the Palestinians to sit with us, continue the negotiations and the dialogue, without preconditions," Ayalon said.

Erekat says peace talks must pick up where they left off nearly a year ago under the previous Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Erekat said at that time Israel offered a Palestinian state in all of Gaza, and 93 percent of the West Bank, with land swaps to make up the difference. But the Palestinians rejected it because of a dispute over sovereignty in Jerusalem's Old City.

Mr. Netanyahu is offering much less of the West Bank and is not willing to discuss Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem. So the Palestinians say resuming peace talks with the current Israeli government is a non-starter.


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