outpost evacuation 298.
(photo credit: Jewish Community of Hebron [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has instructed Defense Minister Amir Peretz to present a plan for the evacuation of the illegal West Bank outposts by the end of the month, state prosecutors informed the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.
The statement came in an updated response to a petition by six Palestinians and Peace Now demanding the immediate dismantling of Migron, an illegal outpost established in late 2001 near the settlement of Kochav Yair.
"On April 1, the prime minister asked the defense minister to bring an orderly plan within two months for the evacuation of the unapproved outposts in Judea and Samaria," the state's representative, attorney Aner Hellman, told the court. "The prime minister's request also includes the evacuation of Migron," Hellman said.
Olmert instructed Peretz to establish a timetable for the evacuation of the outposts based on the principle of "starting with the easy ones and going on to the harder ones," Hellman added.
According to the prime minister's instructions, the criteria for determining the order of the evacuations are to include the anticipated degree of resistance by the settlers and their supporters, the outposts that had already been issued evacuation orders and could therefore be removed immediately, small outposts and outposts built on Palestinian-owned land.
The state asked to submit a progress report to the court in another 60 days.
The petitioners' attorney, Michael Sfard, said the state's response was another attempt to avoid dismantling Migron. "I'm happy the government thinks we are all stupid or na ve," he told The Jerusalem Post. "Every few months, it tells the court that one day soon it will have an evacuation plan."
However, the government's declared intentions appear to be genuine.
Informed sources recently told the Post that Peretz and Olmert met last month and that for the first time, the prime minister indicated he was prepared to begin evacuating a number of illegal outposts.
Israel has pledged to the Bush administration that it will remove at least 24 illegal outposts built after prime minister Ariel Sharon took office in 2001, and even passed a cabinet decision to that effect in 2005.
According to defense officials, while Olmert and Peretz were busy defending themselves from the Winograd Committee's conclusions, relentless American pressure has forced them to deal with the outposts as well.
Defense officials said the evacuations would be carried out by the Israel Police and that the IDF would secure the perimeters. Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has told Peretz he prefers police carry out the actual evacuations and spare the military from having to clash with the settlers.
IDF sources said Ashkenazi opposed IDF participation since he feels that it would distract the military from focusing on training and preparing for future conflicts, and would further harm the fragile relationship between the army and the settlement camp.
Yishai Hollender, a spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said there was no need for Peretz to draw up evacuation plans since the council was willing to negotiate the matter with the government.
Olmert knows that what is needed is not an evacuation, but for both sides to talk, Hollender said.
A year ago, settler leaders and government representatives met to discuss a compromise on the unauthorized outposts whereby some would be legalized and others would be moved to areas within the settlement blocs that are considered likely to be retained by Israel in a final status agreement with the Palestinians.
But such talks have broken down. Settlers blame Peretz for refusing to meet with them, while the Defense Ministry blames the settlers for the deadlock.
MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) said an evacuation plan was unnecessary because the moment Peretz leaves office, an agreement would be reached with the settlers on the unauthorized outposts. Given that Peretz was likely to lose the Labor leadership primary on May 28, there is no need for his plan, said Schneller.
However while discussing the prospects for Kadima continuing to lead the government, he said one had to continue to seek a resolution on the outpost issue, irrespective of the current political turmoil.