Barak: We didn't bow to Obama on West Bank outpost evacuation
Comments come despite ministers saying PM promised Obama to dismantle West Bank outposts.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that pressure from the United States did not bring about the evacuation by Israeli security Forces of an illegal West Bank outpost earlier in the day.
"There is no connection to American pressure, and I have clarified this to the settler leaders," Barak said.
The evacuation of the outpost of Maoz Esther on Thursday morning came only a day after Defense Ministry sources told Haaretz that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak have agreed on a plan to evacuate illegal outposts in the West Bank, mainly those located on Palestinian land.
This was part of the "price" Netanyahu paid Obama in exchange for the latter's statements about Iran's nuclearization, the sources said.
But Barak added: "The subject of unauthorized outposts is an obligation of Israeli society to itself... a society that desires life and preserves the law cannot accept attempts by citizens to undermine the nature of the state."
In an apparent nod to diplomatic pressure exerted by the Obama administration, Israeli security forces evacuated the West Bank settlement outpost of Maoz Esther on Thursday morning.
Security forces hauled away seven metal containers converted to cabins during the evacuation. Several youths were at the camp but there was no violence, said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.
On Wednesday, the sources said Barak intended to dismantle a number of outposts out of 26 illegal ones. "It is up to him entirely, and on the time and circumstances he sees fit. Netanyahu won't make difficulties. They're in sync," a source said.
Ministers, including those from Likud, said Wednesday that Netanyahu probably promised United States President Barack Obama in their meeting that Israel would dismantle outposts soon.
Barak told the Yesha settlers council Wednesday that Israel will dismantle the illegal outposts by force if dialogue proves fruitless. Barak is trying to reach an agreement with the settlers on dismantling the outposts.
"We will dismantle the illegal outposts," Barak said. "If it won't be through understanding, it will be done quickly and by force."
Evacuating illegal outposts in the West Bank is expected to be the Netanyahu government's first gesture toward Obama and the Palestinian Authority.
This is part of the "price" Netanyahu paid Obama in exchange for the latter's statements about Iran's nuclearization, the sources said.
Sources close to Barak said Wednesday that the first outposts are expected to be evacuated within a few weeks - either with the settlers' agreement or by force.
Before going to Washington, Netanyahu and chief of policy planning Ron Dermer drafted the new government's policy principals. The document, which Netanyahu issued for distribution only after meeting Obama, says Israel is ready to evacuate the illegal outposts. As for stopping construction in the settlements the document was more cagey, saying the settlements were not an obstacle to peace and that the evacuation of settlements in Gaza only led to the establishment of a Hamas terror base in the Gaza Strip.
During the meeting, held at the minister's bureau in Tel Aviv, Barak went on to say, "We can't compromise on law enforcement. A sovereign country that seeks life must enforce its laws and implement the state's authority over its citizens."
He said the new Israeli government would take action against the outposts, not because it was told to do so by the United States, but because Israel "is a state of law."
Barak added that the illegal outposts cause extensive damage to Israel in the international arena, and even weaken the settler movement. Therefore, he said, the problem of the unauthorized outposts should be addressed first and foremost.
The meeting, called by the Yesha Council, included several settler demands. The council asked that the construction in the West Bank settlements be unfrozen, that Jewish communities in the West Bank be afforded conditions for a normal lifestyle and that certain security concerns be addressed.
Maoz Esther resident Avraham Sandak said 40 people had been living at the hilltop site northeast of Ramallah and they would start work immediately to replace the demolished buildings.
"We hope to sleep here tonight and we hope, with God's help, to rebuild it, not like before but bigger," he said.