Very belatedly, the U.S. administration announced the failure of its efforts to persuade Israel to reinstate the freeze on building in the settlements. In doing so, U.S. President Barack Obama saved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from having to put up a political deposit and demonstrate his willingness to pay the balance of the political price that a two-state solution would extract. The United States will probably shelve the incentive package it promised Israel in exchange for the construction moratorium.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to stress on Friday that the administration's position on the illegitimacy of continued building in the settlements, as well as on the damage it does to Israel's future and to the peace process, has not changed. Clinton did not say how the United States will react to renewed building in the West Bank, which is disrupting negotiations over its future. The governments of other countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, have already submitted the bill to Israel by recognizing a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. Late last week, 26 senior European Union officials and statesmen issued a letter, harshly condemning Israeli policy and expressing support for the Palestinian Authority's efforts to build the foundations for an independent state.

Clinton's promise that the United States will play a central role in efforts to reach an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state and will even draft compromise proposals to those party to the conflict is praiseworthy. Perhaps the administration's message, coming as it did amid strident voices from the international community, will rouse Netanyahu from the false complacency of the status quo and will remind Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Labor Party colleagues why they joined this right-wing government.

Instead of celebrating his victory, the prime minister would do well to take seriously Clinton's announcement that Washington will demand that both sides show more flexibility on the core issues of the conflict and will be "asking tough questions and expecting substantive answers," as she put it Friday. If Netanyahu seeks to hold on to the remaining trust of the Israeli public and the international community in his "Bar-Ilan vision," he should stop playing hide-and-seek, and during the upcoming shuttle-diplomacy trip of U.S. envoy George Mitchell, he should present his proposal for a final-status arrangement.