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End of Israeli Settlement Freeze Looms Over Peace Talks

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Middle East peace talks are facing their first major challenge just three weeks after they began.

A showdown is looming in the Middle East with a 10-month freeze on Israeli settlement construction due to expire on Sunday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from his hawkish coalition partners to resume building in the West Bank on schedule, despite opposition from the United States and the Palestinians.

"If the prime minister will decide to extend the moratorium - he promised he will not do it, publicly and personally to me and to others - we will have to take action. He knows that, said Danny Denon, a parliamentarian from Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party. "He knows the current coalition will not allow him to extend the moratorium."

Denis Sullivan, director of the Middle East Center at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, disscusses Israel-Palestinian direct talks:

The U.S. and the Palestinians see the settlements as an obstacle to peace, and they have urged Israel to extend the freeze on construction. Palestinian official Hazzam el-Ahmed says the ball is in Mr. Netanyahu's court.

In remarks broadcast on Israel Radio, el-Ahmed said if settlement construction resumes, the Palestinians will pull out of the peace talks.

But it took 20 months to get the negotiations going again after a long stalemate over the settlements, and neither side wants them to break down after just three weeks. So U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials are working feverishly behind the scenes to try to hammer out a compromise that will keep the peace process on track.

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