Ramon: Outposts must be removed now

Vice premier says Israel must act within one or two weeks, even at the price of violent confrontation.

ramon thinks 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ramon thinks 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel should move faster to dismantle outposts and do more to enable the Palestinians to build two industrial parks in the West Bank, Vice Premier Haim Ramon said Saturday. Ramon told Israel Radio it was time for the defense establishment to end drawn-out negotiations with settler leaders on the fate of the outposts. Israel must act quickly, Ramon said. "If [US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] says they should have been dismantled yesterday, we cannot leave them for a few more months. One week, two weeks, in the very near future, we need to make a decision [on the outposts]," he said. Ramon said that every day that passed without action on the matter harmed Israel's status in the international community and its relationship with the US. While Ramon acknowledged that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were making efforts to reach a peaceful agreement with settler leaders, he stressed that outposts would have to be dismantled regardless of whether or not such an accord was achieved, even at the price of a violent confrontation. Ramon said that Israel was torn between security concerns and trying to improve the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. "The military insists on security arrangements," he said. "On the other hand, the broader view requires us to take certain risks, and I am among those who believe that it would have been possible to reach certain agreements with the Palestinians on civil affairs." He said an Israeli go-ahead for the two industrial zones, near Hebron and Jenin, "is vital for a change of atmosphere in the West Bank." Ramon spoke after Rice criticized both Israel and the Palestinians on Friday for not doing enough to demonstrate their commitments to peace. Speaking during a tour of Latin America, Rice said Washington was frustrated at the lack of progress. "Without following road map obligations and without improvements on the ground, it's very hard to sustain this process," she said. She was equally critical of both parties, saying: "Frankly, not enough has happened to demonstrate that the Israelis or Palestinians fully understand or are fully acting on what needs to be done." Her comments on Friday came just a few hours after US road map monitor Lt.-Gen. William Fraser met with Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Jerusalem to discuss exactly the same issues. This was the first time the US envoy had sat down together with both parties. The US consulate in Jerusalem said the discussions focused on "where the parties are not meeting their commitments and the reasons why, and explored ways to accelerate the process," adding that the meeting included a "cordial but frank exchange of views," Representing the Palestinians was Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. The head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic security bureau, Maj -Gen (res) Amos Gilad, represented Israel. The Israeli side issued no statement after the talks but ahead of the meeting Gilad said "rumors about tensions are baseless." Fayad's office praised Fraser for showing "seriousness and commitment." But Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat criticized the fact that Defense Minister Ehud Barak failed to attend the meeting. "It would have been very appropriate for Barak to go," Erekat said, "maybe he couldn't go because he is busy planning more settlement construction and more incursions." Fayad expressed frustration over Israel's continuing settlement construction, saying a freeze on building "is crucial to preserving the possibility of a Palestinian state." AP contributed to this report.