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26 Sep, 2010 14:59

West Bank settlements returning to spotlight

With the moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank expired, peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian governments are in a very precarious position.

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will not be extending the moratorium.

The Palestinians said a restart of settlement construction by Israelis could cause them to quit negotiations, which began this September for the first time in two years.

Meanwhile, Israel's prime minister is calling on West Bank settlers to show restraint as Israeli restrictions on settlement works come to an end.

Some Jewish settlers plan to celebrate the end of moratorium later on Sunday with a rally to symbolically resume construction – a move that could threaten newly re-launched Middle East peace talks.

Eyal Raviv, from MEPEACE – an NGO aimed at extending dialogue between both sides of the conflict, thinks only a freeze of construction can give another chance for peace.

These peace talks need to continue, so that we can continue living together without violence. The settlement freeze will be an opportunity for these leaders to show that they can overcome the obstacles in their way,” Raviv said.

However, Eve Harow from the Yesha Council – an organization that provides support to Jewish settlements – says freezing the settlements has no impact on the cause of the problem preventing peace in the region.

The cause [of the problem] is the Arab world at large, and the Palestinians, in particular, not accepting the right of the Jews to have a state here,” Harow argues. “Therefore, the freeze has nothing to do with peace whatsoever. Stopping it or continuing it will make absolutely no difference.”

Peace activist Yotam Berger says more settlement construction seriously threatens the peace process and makes settling the territorial dispute ever more difficult.

“We should do everything we can to stop the [construction] in order to make Israel a country with a future,” Berger said.

The main object of the settlements is to prevent peace and the majority of Israelis do not support the building, says Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace campaigner.

“It is happening only because the small, but powerful political group in Israel which supports the settlers, does not want peace,” he says.

“Everybody knows that if we reach a peace agreement, we shall give back the West Bank to the Palestinian people. What is the sense of investing billions of dollars in building new houses and new settlements in the West Bank if tomorrow or the year after or in five years we shall give back all this territory to Palestinians?”