Netanyahu urges settler restraint as moratorium ends

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israeli settlers to act with restraint after a limited construction moratorium expires on Sunday, a plea that appeared aimed at keeping Middle East peace talks alive.

Netanyahu has resisted U.S. pressure to extend the 10-month limited freeze on housing starts in settlements in the occupied West Bank despite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s threats to quit the negotiations launched on September 2 in Washington.

But he has said he could limit the scope of renewed construction, a message he seemed to underscore in an official statement issued only hours before settlers were due to hold a cornerstone-laying ceremony to mark the end of the moratorium.

“The prime minister calls on the residents in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the political parties to show restraint and responsibility today and in the future exactly as they showed restraint and responsibility throughout the months of the freeze,” it said.

The moratorium officially expires at midnight (6 p.m. EDT), and the United States held extensive discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials over the weekend to try to prevent the collapse of the negotiations.

“The American efforts are continuing. So far, there is no breakthrough,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas, told Reuters by telephone from Paris, where the Palestinian leader was to meet on Monday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said there was more than an even chance the peace process would continue. Washington has said it hopes all major issues in the peace talks can be resolved within a year.