Peres: Olmert still committed to removing settlements

Vice Premier Shimon Peres said on Saturday that the government was still committed to evacuating West Bank settlements, and blamed its failure to do so on Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel. "We will implement it [the evacuation of some settlements] according to deeds," he said. "If Hamas will be willing to negotiate, recognize Israel and reach peace, then definitely, yes." Hamas, which took control of the Palestinian Authority a year ago, has refused to accept the international community's conditions for a resumption of direct aid to the PA: recognize Israel's existence, renounce violence and accept PLO-Israel agreements. Still, Peres said, "Settlements will be removed" by the end of Olmert's term, speaking with Channel 2's Meet the Press. "Not all settlements [will be evacuated], and I'm not even sure that most of the settlements [will be removed]," he clarified. Peres said he could not say whether "dozens of settlements or less" would be dismantled," but that Olmert would make a serious effort to keep his promise to evacuate West Bank settlements. A Peres spokesman told The Jerusalem Post the government's position had always been that some settlements would be removed, and that the hope was this would be done as part of a permanent status agreement. Olmert campaigned on a platform that involved a "realignment plan" of unilaterally withdraw from isolated areas of the West Bank. The plan was shelved after the war with Hizbullah last summer. In November, Olmert told Newsweek-Washington Post, "After the fighting in Lebanon, and also the failure of the Palestinians to cope with continued terrorist attacks, I have second thoughts about the ability to accomplish the two-state solution through realignment. It is definitely not dead, but it has to be reexamined." "You can read my lips: 'I'm ready for territorial compromises and I haven't changed my mind,'" he added. AP contributed to this report.