Israel will act 'expeditiously' on outposts

PM will state so to Bush on Middle East visit Wednesday; no exact eviction schedule announced.

Olmert 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel will tell US President George W. Bush during his visit to the region this week that it is committed to acting "expeditiously" to dismantle unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday. Israel has pledged repeatedly to take action on the outposts, generally small encampments settlers have set up in the West Bank to break up territory the Palestinians claim for a future state. Olmert spokesman Mark Regev did not say how quickly Israel would take down the dozens of outposts. In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, meanwhile, violence deepened in the lead-up to the Bush visit, which begins Wednesday. Israeli troops shot and killed two armed Palestinians who approached the border with Israel in northern Gaza, the military said. Islamic Jihad announced that a female militant blew herself up along the border fence in the area. The identity of the other Palestinian was not immediately clear, and Palestinian medical officials could not immediately confirm the deaths. Israel first pledged to remove West Bank outposts in 2003, under the US-backed "road map" peace plan. That plan, however, stalled shortly after it was launched because Israel and the Palestinians failed to honor initial obligations. But Regev said conditions have changed since Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace talks at the international conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November. "What is new in the post-Annapolis process is that there isn't an expectation that Israel alone will implement its obligations under the road map in a vacuum," Regev said. "Rather, the expectation is that both sides will in parallel move forward in implementing their obligations. Obviously, that framework makes the process more doable." Olmert, he added, "is committed to acting expeditiously on this matter." Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hoped Olmert would follow through. "I hope that he will dismantle the outposts ... so that we can make 2008 a year of peace and treaty," Erekat said. "We'll judge it once we see it." The road map calls for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. As initial steps, it requires the Palestinians to rein in militants and Israel to freeze West Bank settlement construction and remove outposts built since March 2001. The government maintains that there are about two dozen such outposts, though Peace Now, an anti-settlement group, puts the number around 50. Recently, Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said Israel should present Bush with a timetable for dismantling outposts. It was not clear he reflected Olmert's position. Around 100 outpost opponents demonstrated Monday at one of the larger of the unauthorized communities, Migron, a 20-minute drive outside Jerusalem. "Evacuate these people," peace activist Mossi Raz appealed to the government over a loudspeaker. "They are here ... only to block a final agreement with the Palestinians." While most outposts are little more than a few trailers or tents, Migron is more established, with 40 families and a synagogue, ritual bath and nursery school. Settlers acknowledge that at least part of the outpost is located on privately owned land seized from Palestinians. Migron leader Avi Teksler told The Associated Press by phone that settlers would continue "to expand this settlement and others." "The Jewish people's connection to its homeland is greater than any political whim," Teksler said. Less than a month after he took office in January 2006, Olmert ordered the demolition of nine houses in the unauthorized outpost of Amona. Violent clashes between settlers and security forces broke out during the operation, and Israel has taken no serious action since against the encampments. In interviews ahead of his Mideast trip, Bush has said he expected Israel to take down outposts. The US president's three-day visit is meant to promote Israeli and Palestinian efforts to conclude a peace deal by the end of 2008. Olmert recently told The Jerusalem Post that it was illogical for Israel to expect the Palestinians to implement all their obligations under the road map without expecting the same of itself.