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Published: Tuesday, 9/28/2010

New Mideast obstacle

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defied the U.S. government and allowed to expire a 10-month moratorium he had imposed on new-settler construction in the West Bank.

The Obama Administration had implored Mr. Netanyahu to extend the moratorium, if only for a few months, to permit Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to deal with the settlements issue in their current round of peace talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had threatened to withdraw from the talks if the moratorium ended.

The settlements are not a life-and-death matter, except perhaps to Mr. Netanyahu's fractious government. Some observers suggested that the prime minister feels he is in such a weak position in internal Israeli politics that he doesn't dare take a stand against members of his coalition who are to the right of his Likud Party.

The moratorium applied only to new construction in the occupied territories. Settlers continued to enlarge and improve current buildings throughout the moratorium.

If the talks continue, that will represent a triumph of American diplomacy. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are working to persuade Palestinian negotiators to stay at the table.

Americans and others of good will have to hope the talks will continue. To the degree they are still alive, they appear to represent the sole hope for achieving a sustainable peace in the Middle East.

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