By Ray Fleming

IT is becoming increasingly clear that the standstill on Israeli-Palestian relations cannot be left as it is. At the weekend the Israeli Peace Now anti-settlement organisation reported that construction on the West Bank had started on 1'700 buildings since the US abandoned its peace talks with prime minister Netanyahu three weeks ago -- the annual rate in the past has been between 1'500 and 2'000 a year. As the settlements spread on illegally occupied territory so does the possibility diminish of the Palestinians getting back land lost in the past.

The United States does not seem to have a Plan B after the breakdown of its most recent drive to get talks restarted. Instead, the idea of a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinian Authority is gaining strength.

Brazil and four other Latin American countries have formally given it their support and the practicality of the proposal is being investigated with the United Nations. The recent precedent created by Kosovo and widely supported by the West is being studied. Any such move will be resisted by Israel whose Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday that Israel could not any longer negotiate with the “illegal” Palestinian Authority. His statement was immediately contradicted by prime minister Netanyahu's office, saying that he did not speak for the government. It is an extraordinary state of affairs when a Foreign Minister's views on a matter of great importance is disowned by his prime minister.