The pace of the new building significantly dilutes the impact of a US proposal to defuse tensions over settlement expansion and get peace talks moving again. The US and Israel have discussed a two- to three-month extension of the moratorium on housing starts that expired on Sept. 26. But a new freeze will have no significance for the Palestinians if the hundreds of new units begun in the last two weeks aren't stopped as well.
"This 60-day extension is basically nonsense," says Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli Consul General to New York, who sees little prospect of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reaching common ground on a peace deal. "Logic dictates if you are going to delineate a border, you stop building now, or at an early stage in the negotiations, you agree on a border'' – and thus agree on where it is permissible to build.
Ideological settlements see surge in construction
The freeze is also having an unintended consequence: building in the West Bank is slowly shifting from large settlements near Israel's border to smaller far-flung settlements that Israel is expected to evacuate if a peace deal is reached.
In the rush to build both before and after the 10-month moratorium, settler construction has surged on medium- and small-sized projects overseen by ideologically driven builders. Those require less bureaucracy than large-scale building.
Palestinians argue that construction erodes the contours of their future state in the West Bank, and that Israel must cease building as a goodwill sign before talks begin in earnest.