RAMALLAH, West Bank - Just days after Mideast peace talks began in Washington, the first major crisis is already looming: Israel hinted Sunday it will ease restrictions on building in West Bank settlements, while the Palestinian president warned he'll quit the talks if Israel resumes construction.

Israel's 10-month-old slowdown on new building in settlements expires Sept. 26, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a tough choice. If he extends the freeze, he risks breaking up his hardline coalition. If he lifts the restrictions, he risks getting blamed for derailing negotiations and disrupting President Barack Obama's Mideast peace efforts.

Netanyahu struck an unusually conciliatory tone during the Washington peace summit and again yesterday, when he briefed his cabinet about his 2 1/2-hour meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington.

Once an opponent of Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu said Sunday he wants negotiations to succeed after 17 years of attempts. He also urged creative solutions to complicated problems, although he did not elaborate. Netanyahu also said he hopes to build a relationship of trust with Abbas.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak signaled Sunday it's unlikely the freeze will be extended in its current form. "I don't think it will remain, and we're looking for a way to ensure that this will not harm the continuation of the talks," Barak told Israel Army Radio. Barak did not elaborate, but said Israel would try to persuade Abbas to accept some new construction. - AP

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