While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has committed himself time and again to forging a peace agreement with the Palestinians this year, his government has overseen a robust expansion of Jewish settlements in the contested West Bank. Mr. Olmert is not unlike other Israeli leaders in this respect, talking about peace while ignoring one of the most divisive issues in Israeli-Palestinian relations. The more settlements, the less land will be available for a future Palestinian state. It's a problem that only deepens with time.
The Israeli group Peace Now, which monitors settlement activity, issued a report last week that showed settlement construction had nearly doubled in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2007. It also described an attempt to extend the Jerusalem-area settlement complexes farther into the West Bank and a flurry of activity in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government continues to insist that new settlements aren't being built, old ones are expanding. It's a persistent fiction that reflects the political power of the Jewish settlement movement, hampers efforts to reach consensus on a peace agreement and undermines Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Last week, Mr. Olmert released a group of Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of support to Mr. Abbas. But a moratorium on settlement expansion would have been a show of support to rival any prisoner release. Neither Mr. Olmert nor his predecessors has had the courage to put a stop to settlement activity. Nor has the Bush administration demanded it of them.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's response to the Peace Now report was predictable - such expansion is unhelpful. Mr. Bush had predicted a peace agreement by year's end, but Mr. Olmert, whose term as prime minister is expected to end next month because of his legal problems, doesn't have the strength or time to help hammer one into place.