Bulldozers roll out across West Bank as settlement freeze ends
Netanyahu speaks with Clinton, Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah in attempt to salvage peace process.
Building work at the West Bank settlement of Ariel restarted Monday morning after a 10-month construction ban expired at midnight on Sunday.
Construction of dozens of housing units also resumed in the settlements of Ravava, Yakir and Kochav a Hashachar, where bulldozers began clearing ground for new developments, which received permits before the freeze began.
Settlers currently have plans for around 2,000 new homes across the West Bank. Of these, around 600 have up-to-date paperwork and are expected to be completed in the coming months.
Construction is expected to begin on Tuesday at a number of sites including Shavei Shomron, Adam, Oranit, Sha'arei Tikva, Kedumim and Karmei Tzur. A cornerstone is to be laid for a new neighborhood in the southern West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai, with construction set to start soon.
After the Sukkot holiday, the Yesha Council of settlements and local West Bank councils are expected to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into approving new construction.
The number of housing units put up in the West Bank during the Netanyahu government is the lowest under any prime minister since the first Rabin government.
Last ditch talks
Last-ditch negotiations continued well into the early hours of Monday morning as Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders attempted to save Middle East peace talks from an early collapse.
Netanyahu spoke twice by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as West Bank settlers prepared restarted construction after a 10-month Israeli moratorium expired on Sunday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly vowed to walk out of talks, which began a month ago in Washington, if building resumes. But Netanyahu remains hopeful of keeping the peace process alive.
"Israel is ready to retain continual contacts [with the Palestinians] over the coming days to find a way to advance peace negotiations," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister, who has faced heavy pressure Likud party colleagues and right-wing coalition partners to end the freeze, which covered the entire West Bank excluding East Jerusalem, also spoke with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II, assuring them that he was striving to maintain the talks.
"I call on President Abbas to continue the frank and fruitful dialogue that has only just begun, with the goal of reaching an historic peace agreement between our nations," Netanyahu said in a statement late Sunday.
"I hope that President Abbas will remain in the talks and continue with me on the path of peace, on which we set out two weeks ago, with many across the world now convinced that my intention to secure peace is serious and honest and that I honor my obligations."