Israeli Foreign Minister Touts Settlement Building Israel's government has promised voters that a slowdown in settlement building would end later this month. Palestinians say they will walk out of peace talks, if construction restarts. In an Israeli settlement between Jericho and Jerusalem, construction is underway, and about 300 Palestinian workers from Hebron are bused to the building site.
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Israeli Foreign Minister Touts Settlement Building

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Israeli Foreign Minister Touts Settlement Building

Israeli Foreign Minister Touts Settlement Building

Israeli Foreign Minister Touts Settlement Building

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Israel's government has promised voters that a slowdown in settlement building would end later this month. Palestinians say they will walk out of peace talks, if construction restarts. In an Israeli settlement between Jericho and Jerusalem, construction is underway, and about 300 Palestinian workers from Hebron are bused to the building site.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that started last week are quickly running up against a challenge. A deadline is approaching for Israel's government to make a decision. And that decision could prompt Palestinians to walk out of the talks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have to decide soon whether to extend a partial moratorium on West Bank settlement building or let it expire. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Jerusalem.

DEBORAH AMOS: The controversy continued last night as the foreign minister and the Israeli president contradicted each other in an assessment of the talks for foreign diplomats. President Shimon Peres framed the fight as a clash of views.

SHIMON PERES: Between the most pessimistic and the most optimistic voice in our government. It's for you to judge.

AMOS: There is also pressure from Israeli settlers, who have extensive political clout. They plan to start building again at the end of the month.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

AMOS: The construction work crew is Palestinian - young men from Arab villages nearby. Yusef Awad says there are no jobs where he lives.

YUSEF AWAD: (Through translator) We don't have work there, so we work here. If there will be work in Israel, we will work in Israel.

AMOS: And, Awad says, he wants the construction ban lifted too. The slowdown has cost him badly needed wages, and the prospects for peace are uncertain.

AWAD: (Through translator) I don't know about the prospects of these negotiations. But all I know, that if they will also make sure we have work, it will be positive.

AMOS: Since the ban, settlement housing construction has slowed, but more than 2,000 units have been built in the first quarter of 2010, according to Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement movement. The settlements are a crucial issue for the Palestinians, says Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian parliament, because expanding Israeli settlements encroaches on the future Palestinian state.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: You see, it's like a situation where two sides are sitting negotiating over a piece of cheese, and while the Palestinians are talking, the Israeli side is eating the piece of cheese. You are allowing one side to destroy the goal of the process.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Jerusalem.

INSKEEP: And you hear Deborah's coverage here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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