Israel to evacuate all outposts in a day
Jerusalem, July 21, 2009
Israel plans to remove in a single day all 23 unauthorised settler outposts slated for evacuation in the occupied West Bank, a move that would meet a long-standing pledge to Washington, a newspaper said on Tuesday.
The report in Haaretz gave no date for removing the outposts, where some of the most militant settlers in the West Bank live, but said the military held an exercise last week to prepare for their evacuation.
Haaretz, a left-leaning newspaper, said the military was preparing to "forcibly evacuate 23 illegal outposts in one day. The plan was formulated by the security establishment, with the knowledge of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu".
Spokesmen for Netanyahu and the Israeli army declined to comment on the report. It was written by the same Haaretz columnist to whom former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon disclosed plans to withdraw settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, a pullout that took place in 2005.
"The report sounds totally delusional," said settler leader Pinhas Wallerstein. But he told Army Radio that settlers could be "partners to painful agreements, although not as a result of American pressure".
Israel has come under increasing diplomatic pressure from its main US ally to halt all settlement building in the West Bank to spur peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said made a resumption of peace talks, suspended for the past six months, conditional on a halt to settlement activity in line with a 2003 peace "road map" that also calls on Palestinians to rein in militants.
"When Israel meets these demands we can return to negotiations," Abbas told reporters in Ramallah.
Netanyahu has rejected a total freeze, in the most serious rift between Israel and the United States in a decade.
Briefing foreign reporters, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor urged the Palestinians to return to negotiations, noting they had held peace talks with the previous government led by Ehud Olmert while settlement building continued.
"In the coming weeks, I think that we will see, I certainly hope so, the resumption of negotiations," Meridor said.
The Defence Ministry says it will not reveal the locations of all the settler outposts to maintain an element of surprise. But they include those built after March 2001, a group that Israel committed to remove during the administration of former US President George W Bush.
The evacuation is expected to be met with resistance from the settlers. Wallerstein said some 8,000 people live at the outposts. - Reuters