The 10-month construction moratorium imposed on West Bank settlements passed by the cabinet in November 2009 officially expired Sunday night.
Efforts were made up until the last minute to find a political solution that will allow for the continuation of direct peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, all such overtures have thus far been to no avail.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
issued a statement calling upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
to continue "the good and honest talks we have just now started in order to reach a historic peace agreement between our two peoples within a year.
"Israel has gone a long way to assist the Palestinians by way of concessions that have improved their quality of life both in Gaza and the West Bank," Netanyahu said.
Over the past few days Netanyahu has spoken with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah to update them on his efforts to move ahead with the negotiations.
By not extending the construction freeze, Netanyahu has effectively rejected US President Barack Obama's demand that he do so and has instead chosen instead to make good on his promise to the settlers.
Anticipating the expiration of the freeze (Photo: AFP)
Top White House official David Axelrod said Sunday that the US remains "hopeful" that Israelis and Palestinians will pursue fledgling peace talks despite the expiration of the settlement freeze.
"We are going to urge and urge, and push throughout this day to get some kind of resolution" of the settlement issue, Obama's top policy advisor said.
Israeli officials said efforts to find a compromise would continue over the coming days, at least until the Arab League convenes at the beginning of October, at Abbas' request.
The officials said Netanyahu refused to extend the moratorium mainly out of internal political considerations, as most cabinet members were against such a move.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak's
to extend the freeze by a few months was also rejected.