Though the peace process has been moribund for nearly six months, the announcement is expected to strengthen Palestinian resolve to refuse to talk amid settlement construction. That is likely to dim the prospects for a new Netanyahu diplomatic initiative for an interim peace accord, which would establish a Palestinian state on temporary borders – leaving the sensitive issue of final borders to be discussed later.
A dispute over Israel's refusal to stop building in the West Bank stymied talks in the fall after Israel ended a 10-month settlement freeze in September 2010.
"This makes a bad situation worse," says Yossi Alpher, the co-editor of Bitterlemons.org, an Israeli-Palestinian online opinion forum. "This attack allows him to fortify his coalition even more from the right."
Palestinian officials have been accused of not sufficiently condemning the attack, and in some cases, even inciting it. In response, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conducted a rare interview with Israel Radio aired Monday in which he called the attack "immoral." He also said that the Palestinian Authority’s security forces are assisting Israel in the investigation.
On the ground, the area around Itamar and the nearby Palestinians villages is tense. While the military conducted a third day of house-to-house searches, Israeli police forces stepped up their numbers on West Bank roads. They are on alert for possible revenge attacks by groups of radical settlers in the region, a policy known as "price tag" that challenges the authority of Israel’s government by taking justice into their own hands.