Despite considerable pressure from both the US and Egypt to continue the settlement construction moratorium for another three months, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s senior ministers, a forum known as the septet, decided this week not to extend the freeze.

Since a cabinet decision was needed to put the freeze into effect last November, another cabinet decision would be needed to extend it, and the septet decided, before Netanyahu’s meeting in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, not to ask for an extension.

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Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly was in favor of an American compromise to extend the moratorium for three months in order to come to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority on final borders, so that it would then be clear where Israel would, and would not, be able to build.

Clinton, however, reiterated in a Channel 10 interview that the US still wanted to see the moratorium extended, although she said she understood Netanyahu’s argument that the PA did not take advantage of the moratorium in place for the last 9-1/2 months to enter into talks.

“The United States believes that we need to establish an environment that is conducive to negotiations,” Clinton said when asked about the moratorium.

She reiterated that both she and US President Barack Obama felt that “doing something about the moratorium” would be “an important decision by Israel,” and that this would be “in the interest of the negotiations.”

Clinton said that “if we are going to have an agreement about territory, and we are going to have a democratic, secure Jewish state in Israel and viable state for the Palestinians, everyone knows that settlements are going to have to be discussed. There are differences in their location and their numbers, but it is something that can’t be put under the rug, it has to be confronted.”

Regarding whether she supported Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, she said that at her meeting on Wednesday with President Shimon Peres, “he reminded me that Yasser Arafat had said, ‘Of course it will be a Jewish state.’ These are the kinds of discussion that have to be done only at the leader level.”

The Prime Minister’s Office, meanwhile, responded to reports in the Arab press that Netanyahu was considering a three-month extension by saying “the prime minister’s position in relation to the time allocated for a moratorium on new construction in Judea and Samaria is known, and there has been no change.”

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, meanwhile, said in a Channel 1 interview that he had urged Netanyahu to extend the moratorium by a few months so as to give the peace talks a chance.

“I told him [Netanyahu] to extend the freeze for at least three or four months during the talks. I told him that this would help achieve satisfactory results,” the Egyptian leader said.

Mubarak quoted Netanyahu as saying that he wasn’t able to extend the freeze because of opposition from his coalition partners.

“I told Netanyahu to forget about all those who are hesitant and skeptical and to continue with the settlement freeze for a few more months at least,” Mubarak said.

Mubarak said that he also made it clear during his meeting with Netanyahu earlier this week in Sharm e-Sheikh that extending the freeze was a small price compared with the potentially bloody repercussions of failing to do so.

The Egyptian president expressed hope that the extension would allow Israel and the Palestinians to reach agreement within a few months.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday reiterated his opposition to the resumption of construction in the settlements and expressed his desire to continue with the peace talks with Israel, a spokesman for Abbas said.

Abbas, who met with Clinton in Ramallah, said that failing to extend the moratorium would jeopardize the peace process, the spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, said.

“They had a serious and thorough discussion,” Abu Rudaineh said of the Abbas- Clinton meeting. “They agreed to increase their efforts during the upcoming phase to boost the peace process.”

He said that the two also agreed to hold another meeting in the coming week in New York.

Upon greeting Clinton in Ramallah, Abbas said he welcomed all efforts to achieve peace in the region, especially those made by Obama’s administration.

“We all know that there’s no alternative to reaching peace through negotiations,” Abbas declared. “Therefore, we have no choice but to continue with these matters.”

Another PA official told The Jerusalem Post that he had “no explanation” for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.

The Palestinians were “very worried” because of Netanyahu’s refusal to extend the freeze of settlement construction, the official said.

“There can be no progress in the peace process while Israel is building in the settlements and creating new facts on the ground,” he said. “A partial freeze is also unacceptable.”

The European Union also weighed in on the matter on Thursday, with its foreign ministers releasing a statement after a meeting saying that the settlements are “illegal under international law” and calling for an “extension of the moratorium decided by Israel.”

An end to rocket and terrorist attacks against Israel was also demanded in the declaration.

The EU “continues to call for a complete stop to all violence, in particular rocket fire and terrorist attacks,” the statement read.