PM seeks settler deal on outposts

Schneller: Peretz won't move to evacuate settlements without gov't permission.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The Prime Minister's Office is still trying to reach agreement with settlers on the unauthorized outposts even as Defense Minister Peretz declared publicly on Monday that such talks had failed, according to Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who is one of the mediators on the issue. Schneller dismissed Peretz's assertion that he would soon move to evacuate some unauthorized outposts. "Peretz won't do anything without the government's permission, and the government will do everything it can to come to an agreement with the settlers," Schneller told The Jerusalem Post. Peretz in turn told his party's legislators, "A decision will have to be made on the political level as a whole. The prime minister said he won't violate the cabinet's decision to take action. In the next few days we will agree on a timetable" [to remove outposts]. There are about 105 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank. In March 2005, the cabinet voted to remove 24 of them, but it has yet to implement that decision. Sources in the IDF Central Command said plans were in place to begin evacuating outposts the moment an order was issued by the government. The plans were drawn up by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav and include the use of border policemen and IDF troops. "The plans are drawn up and all that is needed is a final decision by the government," said one officer. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was committed to removing the illegal outposts, but added that he wanted to do it as part of a comprehensive program as opposed to the "miniature" plan Peretz had discussed with him of removing four outposts. They said Olmert wanted to deal with the issue of unauthorized outposts in its entirety, and would not force the issue on four small locations whose overall significance was questionable. What Olmert was trying to do, the sources said, was to draw up a list of the illegal outposts, and then hold a dialogue with settlement leaders to resolve the issue through agreement. Olmert wants to avoid the types of traumatic scenes that took place last year at the violent demolition of nine empty homes at the Amona outpost in Samaria, the sources said. The idea was to remove the outposts in an open, step-by-step process, without alienating a significant part of the population, the sources said. Olmert is not currently under any significant pressure from the international community to act. Western diplomatic officials have made it clear in recent days that the international community, which wants to see the Olmert government survive and understands Olmert's domestic problems, does not want to further complicate his political situation. Settlers have publicly told both the Peretz and Olmert that they are willing to participate in talks on the issue. They were upset last month when Peretz canceled a meeting with them. They said at the time that relations between him and the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip had hit an all time low. After hearing Peretz's declarations on Monday, council head Benzi Lieberman appealed to Olmert to continue talks with them. In a letter he sent to the prime minister, Lieberman spoke of a pledge Olmert had made to him after the violence between settlers and security forces at Amona. Olmert, Lieberman said, had promised he would not evacuate another outpost without first seeking an agreement with the settlers. Council spokeswoman Emily Amrusi accused Peretz of using the settlers to score political points in advance of the May 28 election for Labor party chairman. Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who opposes outpost evacuations, was so sure Peretz's words were meaningless that he didn't even bother to respond, according to a source in his office. Last month, the Post reported that the government was conducting a broad evaluation of the legal status of settlement construction, to come up with "carrots and sticks" to use in convincing settlement leaders to voluntarily evacuate illegal outposts. Peretz's declaration Monday that he planned to begin evacuating outposts was not the first time the defense minister made such announcements. In October, Peretz told the Post he planned to evacuate outposts by the end of the month. There are 12 outposts under consideration for removal. If the orders are given, the evacuations will be commanded by the Central Command and the Judea and Samaria Police District. The IDF will be responsible for securing the perimeter of the targeted outposts, with the goal of preventing right-wing reinforcements from reaching the area. The plan would be, officials said, to evacuate three-to-four outposts at a time.