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Israel's Netanyahu goes on the defensive

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers today that it was the US that dropped the idea of a three-month Israeli settlement freeze this fall.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem on Jan. 3.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to deflect rising criticism at home over stalled peace talks Monday by telling Israeli lawmakers that it was the US, not Israel, that rejected a settlement freeze extension this past fall.

"There was an American decision not to follow the track,'' said a government official who confirmed the remarks but was not authorized to speak for attribution. "The reporting out there that Israel rejected the American package is simply erroneous.''

The rare attempt to rehash the recent breakdown in negotiations with the Palestinians comes in response to recent allegations in the press and among political allies that Mr. Netanyahu bears responsibility for the current deadlock and hasn't done enough to move negotiations forward.

Faced with a successful Palestinian drive to enlist countries to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state – with or without a peace deal, he is increasingly seen as putting Israel on the defensive – and leading it toward further isolation internationally.

Labor threatens to withdraw from coalition

Though the prime minister blames the Palestinians for making a settlement freeze a precondition for talks, leaders of the dovish Labor Party on Monday threatened to withdraw from the government if there's no progress on the talks. After months of grumbling, the party is currently debating how soon to set a vote on possible withdrawal. Some are pressing for a vote as soon as this month.

"If we see no progress, the sooner we go the better,'' said Trade Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer.

While a Labor withdrawal would not bring down Netanyahu's government, it would destabilize the prime minister by leaving him with a narrower majority. It would also recast his government in the public mind as uniformly hard-line rather than a mix of left and right.

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