'Post' learns Olmert responding positively to relentless pressure from US.
By YAAKOV KATZ, TOVAH LAZAROFF
For the first time since taking office last year, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has indicated in closed-door meetings that he was prepared to begin evacuating a number of illegal outposts in the West Bank, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Israel has promised the United States over the years that it would remove at least the 24 illegal outposts built by settlers in the West Bank, all of which were established after Ariel Sharon took office in 2001, and even passed a cabinet decision to that effect in 2005.
Earlier this week, Olmert met with Defense Minister Amir Peretz. According to a senior defense official, the two agreed to move ahead with evacuation plans and to raise the issue with other coalition members in the coming weeks.
"This is the first time that Olmert has responded positively to the idea of evacuating the outposts," the senior official said of the meeting between Peretz and the prime minister. The Prime Minister's Office refrained from commenting.
According to another official, the US has been putting relentless pressure on Olmert and Peretz to evacuate illegal outposts ever since the two took office last year. On a visit to the United States last month, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh was asked about the issue during his talks with administration officials.
"The pressure has never stopped," the official said. "They want the outposts removed and will not give up until we remove them."
MK Otniel Schneller, who acts as a liaison between the settlers and the PMO, said he had not heard of any meeting between Peretz and Olmert regarding the outposts.
Schneller said it was his understanding that Olmert did not want another violent clash between settlers and security forces, such as the one last year over the demolition of nine empty homes at the Amona outpost.
Therefore, Schneller said, Olmert was determined to reach an agreement with the settlers on the 24 outposts the cabinet voted in 2005 to evacuate.
He had previously told the Post that the government was seeking a deal to legalize some of the outposts and move others inside those settlement blocs Israel believes it would maintain in a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
Schneller said last week that it was Peretz who was blocking the deal, because the defense minister was looking to evacuate the outposts entirely rather then move them to a more acceptable location.
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