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Netanyahu hits defiant note ahead of visit with Obama

Two days before he meets President Obama in Washington, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday that 'building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv.'

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Part of this appears to be due to Netanyahu's new willingness to discuss more substantive issues in proximity talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials which George Mitchell, the US Middle East peace envoy, has been trying to launch for several months

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"At the beginning, when the Americans proposed proximity talks, we were saying there can't be a discussion of core issues in such talks," explains Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu. "Now, we've accepted that core issues can be discussed in proximity talks on a preliminary basis."

Proximity talks

Proximity talks, in which a negotiator shuttles between parties at separate but nearby locations, have been used with some success in trying to resolve international conflicts.

While Netanyahu hasn't exhibited any flexibility in yielding to the demands of the Palestinian leadership, the Obama administration, and others in the international community that Israel stop building in East Jerusalem – which Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed – the Israeli premier has offered that he would make other "confidence-building measures," including easing the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, visiting the Gaza Strip on Sunday, condemned the "unacceptable, unsustainable conditions" in which Palestinian were living there.

Mr. Ban confirmed that the Israeli government had recently approved a UN request to continue its humanitarian projects in Gaza, but said the overall policy of blocking entrances to Gaza was counterproductive, preventing legitimate commerce and encouraging smuggling and extremism.

Violence continues

Although the diplomatic atmosphere between Jerusalem and Washington has begun to look less stormy than it did a week ago, tensions on the ground have not abated in equal measure.

Palestinian youths have continued to clash with Israeli soldiers in recent days, intifada-style.

In clashes over the weekend in the village near the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian teenagers on Saturday.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says it tried to disperse a mob of stone throwers and that the soldiers used rubber bullets; Palestinians and human rights groups says live ammunition was used.

On Sunday, in the same area, two Palestinians were killed at a checkpoint.

The IDF said the two men tried to stab Israeli soldiers on duty with a pitchfork and a broken bottle.