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(photo credit: AP [file])
In his first meeting since taking office last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Tuesday with a small group of settler leaders and their supporters and reiterated his determination to carry out a large-scale unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, participants said.
The premier told the eight participants in the hour-and-a-half meeting that his convergence plan, under which Israel would withdraw from scores of isolated settlements while strengthening the major settlement blocs in the West Bank, was "the right thing to do" in order to maintain the State of Israel as a Jewish state.
"If we do not decide [on Israel's border], it will be decided for us," Olmert said.
Petah Tikva Rabbi Yuval Sherlo said Tuesday that he came away from the "open brainstorming meeting" more convinced than ever that Olmert would definitely carry out the convergence.
The participants in the meeting - all opponents of the convergence plan - urged the premier to get American backing for Israeli building in the major settlement blocs in exchange for carrying out the controversial West Bank withdrawal plan.
Olmert has repeatedly said that if restarting negotiations with the Palestinians proved impossible he would work to unilaterally redraw the country's borders in the coming years.
The planned pullout, which is expected to be carried out by the end of 2008, entails the evacuation of tens of thousands of Israelis from their homes.
Olmert has said that he would try to carry out a dialogue with settler leaders ahead of the pullout in an attempt to alleviate expected tensions, with Tuesday's meeting seen as a first step in such talks.