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Palestinians reject U.S. plan to restart peace talks

RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Obama administration's troubled attempt to revive Mideast peace talks took another blow Sunday when the Palestinian president rejected the latest U.S. plan to get the sides talking again.

Mahmoud Abbas said a proposed 90-day freeze on Israeli construction of settlements wouldn't get him back to the negotiating table unless it includes east Jerusalem, a condition Israel staunchly opposes.

Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for their future capital. For decades, Israel has built Jewish sections around the city's periphery, and about 200,000 Jews live there now. Palestinians consider the large neighborhoods as illegal settlements.

The impasse highlights the gaps the U.S. must bridge - not to just to achieve a peace deal, but even to get the sides to sit down and talk about one.

In Cairo yesterday, Abbas said any construction freeze must include east Jerusalem "first and foremost," along with the West Bank.

The issue of Israeli settlements has bedeviled the latest round of peace talks since their launch in September. They broke down three weeks later when a previous 10-month slowdown on West Bank construction expired.

Since then, the U.S. has been pushing Israel to impose a new, 90-day moratorium to draw the Palestinians back to talks. The U.S. hopes the sides can reach a deal on future borders during that time, in effect determining which settlements Israel will get to keep under a peace deal.

To entice Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pro-settlement coalition government, the U.S. has offered a fleet of next-generation stealth warplanes and promises to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.

With McClatchy Newspapers

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