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End to construction ban pleases Jewish settlers

REVAVA, West Bank — Thousands of Jewish settlers celebrated the expiration Sunday of a 10-month freeze on new settlement construction in the West Bank, defying the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian officials to reach a compromise on the issue and keep peace negotiations alive.

Palestinian and American officials said it likely would take days to find a solution to the settlement moratorium. Palestinians have said they'd abandon the talks if Israel ends its moratorium on the construction of settlements on land in the West Bank that Palestinians say is earmarked for a future independent state.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, however, heads a largely right-wing, pro-settlement coalition that's threatened to dissolve the parliament if he continues any form of settlement freeze. Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas launched direct peace talks earlier this month at the urging of the White House.

"I think that the chance of achieving a mutually agreed understanding about moratorium is 50-50. I think that the chances of having a peace process is much higher," Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, told the BBC. "We cannot afford... to let this process, with historic potential impact on the lives of many millions, on the stability of the whole region, to be derailed by the fact that Israel doesn't have a way to stop this building totally."

Officials close to President Obama said Sunday that they hope the talks could find a way forward.

"We are going to urge and urge, and push throughout this day to get some kind of resolution," Obama adviser David Axelrod told ABC News. "These talks themselves are absolutely crucial — we're at a critical juncture in that region."

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