JERUSALEM - About 10,000 West Bank settlers and their backers filled part of downtown Jerusalem yesterday, listening to fiery speeches, dancing in circles and pledging to defy a building ban imposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The large turnout reflected support for increasingly fierce settler resistance to the government ban on most new housing. The ban is designed to encourage resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Settlers held signs and banners that read, "We will continue to build" and "Stop Iran's nukes, not our homes."
Netanyahu is widely perceived by the settlers to have caved in to American pressure. He announced the 10-month halt in most new West Bank housing construction last month in an attempt to restart peace talks, which broke down a year ago.
The restrictions infuriated Jewish settlers and their backers in Netanyahu's hard-line coalition.
The Palestinians have dismissed the prime minister's building restrictions as insincere and insufficient, since they do not include East Jerusalem or 3,000 homes already under construction in the West Bank. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as parts of a future state.
They say they will not resume talks until all settlement construction ceases.
The settlers have been struggling to regain their strength since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all 8,000 Israelis who were living there, despite vocal and sometimes violent settler opposition.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, himself a settler, said yesterday that the protest was legitimate. "If someone came to you and froze construction on your house while you were building it, you would also object," he told Israel Radio.
Netanyahu, speaking after a meeting of top ministers yesterday, said the Palestinians seem to have adopted a strategy of "rejecting negotiations with Israel."
"This is a mistake. There can be no genuine solution without direct negotiations with Israel," he said.