(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Setting a vision for Israel's permanent borders, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has said that the government plans to retain the settlements of Karnei Shomron, Reihan and Shaked in any future deal with the Palestinians.
Israel, Mofaz said, planned to retain the Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion settlement blocs in addition to the settlements of Shaked, Reihan, Karnei Shomron and Kedumim, whether under a peace plan with the Palestinians or in a unilateral withdrawal.
"When we talk about Israel's permanent or future borders, it includes the Jordan Valley, Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel, Kedumim-Karnei Shomron and Reihan-Shaked," Mofaz said during a meeting with the residents of the settlement of Oranit late Sunday night. The defense minister made no mention of the future of the Ofra-Beit El bloc, Hebron, Itamar or Elon Moreh.
The settlements Mofaz listed went a little farther than a similar list Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert detailed three weeks ago. Olmert began to broadly draw the parameters of where he thought Israel's final border should run earlier in the month in a Channel 2 interview, saying that the Jordan Valley, Gush Etzion, Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel settlement blocs would remain a part of the country.
"We will separate from the majority of the Palestinian population that lives in Judea and Samaria, and it will obligate us to leave territories where Israel is today," Olmert said. "We will move into central settlement blocs."
Security officials claimed that Mofaz's inclusion of Karnei Shomron as part of the settlements Israel planned to keep was not new and would not be affected by the construction of the West Bank barrier whose route has yet to be finalized and could potentially place the settlement on the Palestinian side of the fence.
"Just because we are building the fence doesn't mean we can't take it down at a later date," one official close to Mofaz said. "The fence is a security apparatus and is not meant to set permanent borders."
The inclusion of the Reihan and Shaked settlements near Jenin, officials said, was based on security concerns that a relinquishment of land up to the Green Line in that area could leave Israeli cities vulnerable to Palestinian attacks.
"Reihan and Shaked are part of Mofaz's overall belief that Israel needs to maintain strong and defensible borders," a source close to the minister said.
While Mofaz went into more details as to what settlement blocs he envisioned would remain in Israel's hands than Olmert did, a source close to the acting prime minister said there was no difference between the two officials' positions on the matter.
But Olmert, like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, refrained from defining those settlement blocs. When pressed to spell out details, he said there was no reason at this time to "understand where every location would end up. We are going toward separation from the Palestinians, toward establishing a permanent border for Israel."
Mofaz, according to the source, went a bit farther and mentioned a couple of different names. "Olmert did not give details, he spoke generally," the source said. "Mofaz mentioned more names. That is the only difference."
The source said there was full coordination between Olmert and Mofaz on this issue.