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Palestinians stick to call for settlement freeze

The Palestinians are sticking to their demand for an Israeli settlement construction freeze in the West Bank, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday, complicating President Barack Obama's latest peace drive.

Obama recently outlined his vision of two states based on the pre-1967 war lines, with mutually agreed land swaps. The president's call for talks did not mention a new settlement freeze, and U.S. officials have indicated it is not essential to the restarting of talks.

"All that we want is a two-state solution based on the '67 borders and stopping settlement activities," Erekat said in Jordan, following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' meeting with American envoys Dennis Ross and David Hale.

The latest round of peace talks broke down in September, just three weeks after their launch, with the expiration of an Israeli moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank.

The Palestinians have refused to negotiate without a new one that also includes east Jerusalem. Israel is demanding talks without preconditions, and says settlements should be one of the topics discussed.

Since the breakdown, Abbas has agreed to reconcile with Gaza's Hamas militants and has forged ahead with plans to seek U.N. recognition for a state, with or without a peace deal with Israel.

The United States opposes the move and has the power to veto the effort at the United Nations Security Council. It is not clear yet whether the U.S. will exercise its veto power.

Erekat said Abbas told the American diplomats the Palestinians were going ahead with recognition at the U.N. in September. "The Americans said they would be against us in this issue," he said.

U.S. officials say that a Palestinian demand for a freeze is now just as big a concern as Hamas' participation in a Palestinian unity government. Israel, the U.S. and EU label Hamas a terror group, and Israel has said it would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, which rules Gaza. Abbas and his current government are in control of the West Bank.