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Israeli settlements in the West Bank expand

In the last issue of FP, Gershom Gorenberg worried that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were endangering the two-state solution. "No one knows exactly where the point of no return is — when so many Israelis will have moved into so many homes beyond the pre-1967 border that there is no going back," he wrote. Wherever that point may be, a new report reveals that Israel raced toward it at a breakneck pace in 2008.

The number of structures in West Bank settlements and new outposts increased 69% in 2008 compared to 2007, according to a new study released by Peace Now. The Israeli government has allowed new construction in larger settlements, which Israel would likely keep in any final status agreement. But of the 1,518 new settler structures, Peace Now found that 39% of the structures were built in outposts outside these areas.

This explosion of settlement growth, it is important to note, happened under a Kadima and Labor government. If you believe that Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud Party is leading election polls, is going to bring a halt to the settler movement -- well, I've got a bridge to sell you in Beitar Illit.

Photo: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

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Gates's nonchalance on Russia

In his testimony before the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates raised a few eyebrows by saying that he was far more worried about Iran's "frankly subversive activity" in Latin America than Russia's recent military activity to the region. He had a good line about the Russian navy's visit to Venezuela:

"In fact if it hadn't been for the events in Georgia in August, I probably would've tried to persuade the president to invite the Russian ships pay a port call in Miami because I think they would've had a lot better time than they did in Caracas."

It seems like Gates has been going out of his way lately to make it clear that he is totally unfazed by the Russian military threat. His recent Foreign Affairs piece was another indication.

I'm certainly glad that the secretary of defense isn't overreacting to the Russian threat. Despite developments like today's meeting between Dmitry Medvedev and Raul Castro, Russia's military capabilities aren't exactly what they used to be. Still, I wonder if constantly reminding Russia of its military weakness might not be the best way to encourage more conciliatory behavior from Russia leaders.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images