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Threatening peace talks, Israel refuses to extend ban on settlements

September 30th, 2010

Recently renewed yet fragile peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine became even more fragile Sunday when a 10-month building ban on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank ended at midnight. 

Despite flak from his coalition of right-wing parties, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pressured by the U.S., agreed to the building ban last November. 

Although talks between the two sides were refueled at a ceremony at the White House earlier this month, it is feared that the termination of the ban could potentially end the negotiations before anything substantial can be accomplished. 

The Obama administration again tried to pressure Netanyahu to extend the ban. President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, expressed the administration’s hope for the situation in an interview with ABC television, “They are talking. They’re trying to work this through and we’re hopeful that they will.”  

Netanyahu reached out to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a statement released after the moratorium ended, saying “Israel is ready to pursue continuous contacts in the coming days to find a way to continue peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” 

The statement went on to say Netanyahu “calls on the residents [of the West Bank] and the political parties to show restraint and responsibility today and in the future exactly as they showed restraint and responsibility throughout the months of the freeze.” 

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said that the construction “will be reserved, responsible and limited.” 

According to Jen Ziemke, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “The fact that the Israelis let the ban on new settlements expire is an indication that senior Israeli leadership is unduly influenced by extremist elements, who have no interest in engaging in dialogue.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured above, refused to extend Israel’s moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank. (AP)

 

Opposite the optimism behind the Israeli outlook, Palestinians feel the chances of the establishment of a true Palestinian state have greatly diminished. 

Despite threats of immediately withdrawing from the peace talks should Israel end the ban, Abbas, for now, remained open to negotiation. 

According to Al-Hayat, a leading Arab newspaper, Abbas will consult the Arab League before making a potentially rash decision by ending the dialogue with Netanyahu. 

As always, the fear of the outbreak of violence is present because of the expiration. In the case that negotiations were to break down, Abbas said he did not expect a large break out of violence. 

On the first day of the end of the ban, Israeli Defense Forces released a statement that an aircraft had “targeted and identified hitting a number of militants preparing to fire rockets from the central Gaza strip into Israel.” 

Approximately 2,000 housing units are ready for immediate construction, according to Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes and tracks Israeli development into the West Bank. 

Also, according to the Washington Post, the pouring of the foundation of a new day-care center deep in the West Bank was symbolically the first construction project started after the ban was removed.