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Will Netanyahu extend the settlement building freeze?

Netanyahu, ClintonBy Nisreen El-Shamayleh

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers of the illegal communities in the occupied West Bank cannot wait for September 26, 2010 to come. They will start building again as soon as the 10-month construction freeze expires. Some have started already.

The settlers did not need a pretext ... whether or not some of them were casualties in the last two attacks by Hamas during the so-called political process in Washington. They were preparing to build anyway come the end of September.

They have said that a failure on the part of the Israeli government to issue construction permits will be understood as an extension of the freeze, and that that will have serious internal political implications. And it will. Netanyahu is the master of walking a political tightrope at home ... but for how long?

If he is interested in these direct talks, he will need to extend the settlement building freeze so that Abu Mazen stays put on the negotiating table. For Netanyahu, that translates into going through the painful process of broadening his government. He’ll have to beg more left-wing groups to join his coalition, such as the Kadima Party led by Tzipi Livni, to sustain a construction freeze policy. Otherwise, his mostly right-wing, pro-settlement expansion government will collapse ... so too will his popularity among the electorate which put him in power.

Is he going to go through aggravating procedures for the sake of "talks"? Probably not if 300,000 angry and religiously motivated settlers are adamant about bringing the cement mixers into the West Bank, regardless. The last thing Israel wants is to look like the Palestinians: internally divided, with a leader who easily surrenders to pressure.

What is certain is that there will be more violence as settlers build under the nose of an occupied Arab people, and as Hamas announces more attacks on settlers are to come. Marinating settlement blocs is a burden on the Israeli government. Around 60% of the Israeli army has the sole responsibility of protecting settlers in their blocs ... perhaps proof that Israel's settlement policy, even if it comes with a hefty price tag, is worth it.

Nisreen El-Shamayleh is a Jordan-based correspondent currently in Jerusalem.

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