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West Bank Killings Further Complicate Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

Backdropped by Israel's separation barrier, Palestinians work at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, March 14, 2011

The killing of five Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank is further complicating efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Prospects for restarting peace efforts were not good before the incident Friday, in which assailants broke into a Jewish family's home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, killing the two parents and three children, including an infant.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke on Israeli radio Monday, condemning the attack. He called the act inhuman, immoral, despicable, and uncivilized.

A day after the killings, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted by approving the construction of hundreds of new homes in major West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu visited the grieving family on Sunday, offering condolences - and a message of defiance. The Israeli leader's words were "they murder, we build."

Israeli and Palestinian authorities are searching for the attackers. Members of the al-Aqsa Brigades, the largely defunct militant wing of Abbas' Fatah movement, were reported to have claimed responsibility, but officials did not take the claim seriously.

Shlomo Brom at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv has participated in past negotiations. He says both Israelis and Palestinians are using the latest violence to push their agendas.

"If it is only an isolated case and it doesn't indicate that a new wave of terrorism is starting, and the impression now is that it is still an isolated case, I don’t think it has much to do with the peace process," said Brom. "It is used tactically by Netanyahu to justify his previous policies."

Brom said Abbas' condemnation on Monday of the attack was aimed at convincing the Israelis that he and Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad remain serious partners for peace.

"It suits perfectly Abbas and Fayyad's policies. They reached the conclusion that violence is not serving their goal of establishing a viable Palestinian state," said Brom.

Israel's construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is at the heart of the impasse that caused U.S.-brokered talks to stall last September.

Palestinian leaders have been urging the international community to put pressure on Israel to stop settlement building.

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