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Israel considers peace talks plan

Washington's new proposal for reviving Middle East talks has been presented to Israel's cabinet.

The plan rests on the bold expectation that Israelis and Palestinians will be able to sketch a border between them in three months.

That is the period the plan sets aside for a one-time extension of a ban on new construction in West Bank settlements.

The proposal was worked out in a seven-hour meeting last week in New York between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

US officials said Mr Netanyahu told the administration he supports the plan and will try to win approval from his cabinet.

But commentators said 90 days is a short time to achieve what Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had failed to do in nearly two decades of intermittent talks, particularly since the current gaps between Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas are much wider than those in previous rounds.

The "borders first" approach could help defuse the dispute over Israeli settlement expansion, which derailed negotiations just three weeks after they were launched in Washington in early September.

A border deal, even in rough outlines, could delineate which areas Israel could expect to keep in a final peace deal and where it would thus be free to keep building homes for Jews.

But the Palestinians have said they will not negotiate without a settlement curb. If three months of talks end without real progress on borders and there is no prospect of extending the freeze, US mediation would appear in grave jeopardy.

Yet the Obama administration believes it is the best way forward as it thinks the gaps on territory are not insurmountable, according to a US official. The administration believes that enough progress can be made on borders to keep the Palestinians invested in the talks, even if no final border deal is reached in three months.

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