Olmert plans West Bank pullout

Ehud Olmert, the interim Israeli prime minister, plans a unilateral withdrawal from some settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins a general election on March 28.

    The move would cement Israeli control over the West Bank

    Israeli officials said on Sunday that Olmert would propose the plan to the United States.

    Under the four-year plan, evacuated settlers would be relocated to large settlement blocs, and Israel would not withdraw militarily from the land as it did last year from the Gaza Strip.

    With Hamas set to form the next Palestinian government, Olmert hopes to win US backing for his go-it-alone approach.

    Both Israel and the United States say they will not negotiate with Hamas, whose charter calls for the Jewish state's destruction.

    Avi Dichter, a security adviser to Olmert who is seen as a possible future defence minister, said: "Without a Palestinian partner, Israel needs to take the initiative itself."

    Cementing control

    The move would cement Israeli control over the most heavily populated settlements in the West Bank, where Israel is building a barrier.

    Dichter said Olmert would start immediately after the election to take steps to remove some isolated settlements from land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War and which Palestinians want for a state.

    "[the plan] will only add to complications, this would mean dictation rather than negotiations"

    Saeb Erikat, the Palestinian spokesman

    But Olmert has made it clear he will not give up the two biggest Jewish settlements, Maale Adumim and Ariel, as well as the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem.

    He also said he could not give up the Jordan Valley to the east, for strategic reasons.

    Olmert has long promoted the idea of a West Bank pullout and of setting permanent borders for the Jewish state; but the plan suggested on Sunday gave more details than in the past.

    But Dichter told Israel Radio that unlike the Gaza pullout, "it will not be a military disengagement".

    "All these territories, these Israeli settlements, will remain in the hands of the Israel Defence Forces [Israeli army] and the security services."

    Dichter said Israeli forces would remain in these areas "until the Palestinian Authority will be a partner" that Israel can negotiate with.


    Saeb Erikat, the Palestinian negotiator, said the plan "will only add to complications, this would mean dictation rather than negotiations".

    Criticising the proposal, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel's goal was to "force unilateral measures and create new facts on the ground."

    Jewish nationalists are also furious at the prospect of giving up West Bank land they see as a biblical birthright. The World Court says all the settlements Israel has built on occupied land are illegal. Israel disputes this.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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