ELAZAR, West Bank—Israel's 10-month partial moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank—a linchpin in the latest round of peace talks—expires on Sunday, and the military order enforcing it will lapse a few days later.
Negotiations aimed at a compromise on the freeze have intensified in recent days in New York.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested he won't renew it. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to pull out if it isn't extended.
If he backtracks, he could face a popular backlash, further damaging his efforts at home to promote negotiation and discourage violent uprising.
But for many West Bank Palestinians, the freeze, which blocks new construction while allowing projects in progress to continue, wasn't much of one in the first place.
Construction here serves as a daily reminder to many Palestinians that 17 years of on-and-off peace talks haven't blocked the steady encroachment of Jewish settlers onto land they claim for a future state.
Palestinian farmer Mahmoud Issa has experienced that firsthand. He says spillover from a construction site on the outskirts of the Jewish settlement of Elazar has gobbled up a third of his 12 acres of farmland in the neighboring Palestinian town of El Khader.
Watching dump trucks at empty mounds of earth on an area where he harvested grapes and olives last year, he says he is resigned to being disappointed whatever the outcome of peace talks. "The negotiations cannot retrieve my land," he says.
President Barack Obama pressed for an extension of the freeze in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York Thursday. He said the freeze "has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Mr. Abbas Friday night in New York in another bid to ensure the peace process continues. Senior U.S. officials said their meetings with Israelis and Palestinians were continuing throughout the weekend.
Israeli negotiators sought a "mutually acceptable compromise," an Israeli official said.
"What I sense is that the Israeli and Palestinian delegations are looking for ways to make sure the talks continue beyond Sunday," Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman said Friday night. "The region and the international community is looking to find way for the talks to continue."
Washington hopes Israel will at least accept a formula that will limit Jewish construction to specific areas in the West Bank. But these officials said a resolution has yet to be found.
The U.S. is also hoping Israel could agree to transfer more powers to Palestinian security forces in the West Bank to allow Palestinian President Abbas to show to his people the benefits of the peace process.
On Friday afternoon, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an interview that London still didn't know if a compromise would be found before Sunday.
Mr. Hague said he met with Mr. Abbas Thursday night and that the Palestinian leader expressed his commitment to the peace process and his concerns about the looming deadline.
In the West Bank, Mr. Abbas has been criticized for agreeing to talk without a total halt in settlement buildings. In late August he said he would negotiate with Israel only on the condition that the freeze be allowed to expire.
A majority of Palestinians support direct negotiations with Israel. A September poll by An Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus found 58% backing them. But that figure falls to just 15% if settlement construction continues.
Palestinians see settlement building as an affront to any talks on a deal that could ultimately result in the West Bank—territory seized by Israel in 1967—as a sovereign Palestinian state.
The freeze only halted new construction: Housing starts in West Bank settlements dropped to zero in the first quarter of 2010, compared with 342 in the year-earlier period, according to government data. But 2,517 housing units were still listed as under construction.
"The settlement freeze is an illusionary concept," said Ramzi Salah, the town council head of El Khader, a farming village that sits amid rolling hills, terraced with olive orchards and vineyards. "The core conflict between us and Israel is over land," he said.
Mr. Issa says that Israeli security guards began blocking him from reaching part of his property around five months ago. "How will I educate my children?" he says, complaining of the lost farming income.
Dror Etkes, an expert on land ownership and settlement development, said it isn't unusual to hear complaints by Palestinians that settlement construction is spilling onto Palestinian land. He says the land on which the apartments are being built was seized by the Israeli military for security reasons in the 1970s and still legally belongs to Palestinians.
The Israeli government says Palestinians will notice the effects of the temporary, partial halt over time. "As we get to the end of the freeze, and in the coming months, you will see the real effect," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu.
Peace Now, an Israeli group which opposes and monitors settlement growth, counters that the significance of the moratorium will be lost if it isn't extended.
—Jay Solomon in New York contributed to this article.