Israel has resisted calls to extend a halt on construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank in a move that could deal a blow to efforts toward a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli settlers today said they would begin building new Jewish homes after the partial moratorium expired overnight.
U.S. officials were reportedly encouraging both sides to continue negotiations kick-started earlier this month -- when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas met with U.S. President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials -- despite the Israeli decision. Obama had urged Tel Aviv to extend the moratorium.
Abbas later suggested a decision on whether or not to return to the talks would be made after a meeting of Arab leaders in Cairo next week.
Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlement in the West Bank, said today that banks and developers remain reluctant to invest, fearing another halt in construction.
Minutes after the freeze expired at midnight on September 26, Netanyahu urged Abbas to continue "expedited, honest talks" to achieve a peace agreement within a year.
Abbas had threatened to quit the talks if the moratorium is lifted, but he appeared to signal a willingness to continue the process as the deadline loomed.
Late on September 26, Abbas said, "If Israel chooses peace, we will continue to negotiate. If Israel doesn't, it will be a waste of time."
In an interview with the pan-Arab newspaper "Al-Hayat" published the same day, Abbas was asked whether he would declare an end to the negotiations if the freeze did not continue. He said: "No, we will go back to the Palestinian institutions, to the Arab follow-up committee." He was referring to an Arab League forum that gave him the go-ahead to pursue direct peace talks with Israel.
Speaking at a Paris press conference, Abbas said on September 27 that he planned to talk about the settlements with Palestinian officials on September 29, and with Arab League members in Cairo on October 4.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev urged continued negotiations in his comments to reporters in Jerusalem after the moratorium had expired.
"Three weeks ago in Washington, we started direct face-to-face talks between Israelis and Palestinians, with a common goal of achieving a historic peace agreement within a year," Regev said. "Now, we want this process to succeed, and that is why Prime Minister Netanyahu called upon President Abbas to continue with these talks. Ultimately, only through ongoing, intensive, direct, and serious negotiations can we hope to build a better future for Israelis and Palestinians."
compiled from Reuters and other media reports