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After US dustup, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces growing challenges

Amid US and Palestinian anger over Israel expansion plans in East Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing mounting skepticism on peace talks from Palestinians and splits within his ruling coalition.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer / March 28, 2010

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday. Trying to tamp down tensions with the U.S. in his first comments since meeting President Barack Obama last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel and the U.S. are "allies and friends" and can work out their differences.

Ronen Zvulun/AP

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Jerusalem

On the eve on Israel's Passover holiday, which celebrates liberation from oppression, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked so mired in his mounting, multi-faceted crises that he might need a miracle to survive them.

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The Israeli premier's meetings last week with US President Barack Obama looked like such a failure for Mr. Netanyahu that the left-leaning Haaretz on Sunday declared Israel to be "deep in the abyss." The more right-leaning, mass circulation Yediot Ahronoth on Sunday quoted a member of Netanyahu's inner cabinet, known as the "forum of seven," as saying that the "situation is catastrophic." The source blamed the Obama administration's "hostility" towards the Israeli government and said that Obama was had turned out to be a "strategic disaster" for the US-Israel relationship.

Alongside the diplomatic woes that have strained ties with Israel's closest ally, there is an air of rebellion in the ranks, as more pro-peace members of Netanyahu's government – the Oslo Accord-pioneering Labor party is a member of his coalition – are musing aloud about breaking up the constellation of governing political parties to make way for a new team more committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

If that weren't enough, there's been an upsurge of violence in and around the Gaza Strip, bringing into question the sustainability of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that marked an indecisive end to their devastating war 14 months ago.

In Sirte, Libya, where the Arab League was meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was being urged by hard-line Arab states – Syria and Libya in particular - to withdraw from the US-sponsored peace process and resume violence against Israel, according to the Associated Press. The AP quoted two delegates who spoke on condition of anonymity "because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Among more mainstream voices, Arab League chief Amr Moussa urged countries to consider finding a new strategy for dealing with Israel in light of fading peace hopes, saying that their offer of peace could not be β€œan open-ended process." He also asked Arab states to foster a dialogue with Iran, a tilt sure to be upsetting to Israeli leaders.

Problems?

At his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu tried to downplay concerns over the troubled US-Israel relationship, and even addressed the Yediot article as not having represented reality.

"Regarding the issues that came up [in Netanyahu's meetings with Obama], there were areas in which there was full agreement, as well as those where there was disagreement. We took various steps to reduce the gaps in order to advance the process. We are continuing these efforts," Netanyahu said.

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