Text size

Former ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor said on Tuesday that Israel was "completely committed" to evacuating unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.

Meridor, who was recently replaced in his post by Michael Oren, told Israel Radio that Jerusalem and Washington had reached "certain understandings regarding what the Americans can live with and what Israel can live with."

"The Americans, unfortunately, have retreated from these understandings," Meridor added. "There was never a doubt that Israel's commitment on the matter of outposts was complete."

Meridor was responding to Haaretz's report that the Israel Defense Forces and the police are planning to evacuate all illegal West Bank outposts in a single day.

As reported by Haaretz, security authorities were in the midst of preparations for a lightning-quick evacuation of 23 unauthorized settler outposts, though the exact date of the operation has been kept secret by defense officials.

Rightist politicians warned on Tuesday that the plan would lead to "extreme" public strife and division.

Netanyahu's government committed to removing the outposts as part of an American-led drive to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Outpost removal is also one of the tasks which Israel agreed to undertake as part of the road map peace plan.

National Union MK Aryeh Eldad told Army Radio that the evacuation of outposts is liable to lead to bloodshed and civil strife. "News of this kind could push the settlers to extreme actions," Eldad warned. "The members of the coalition will also have to open up a front against the prime minister."

Likud MK Danny Danon said the planned evacuation would be "very bad."

"I don't believe that a Likud government headed by Netanyahu would lend its hand to a mass evacuation of Jewish settlers," Danon said. The lawmaker added that the government should engage settler leaders through dialogue in an effort to reach an accommodation on the issue of unauthorized outposts.

Another Likud MK, Tzipi Hotoveli, also called for talks with the settlers. "This step [of forcible evacuation] cannot be done outside the framework of a comprehensive plan for the unfreezing of construction in Judea and Samaria," said Hotoveli, invoking the biblical names which are used to refer to the West Bank.

"We've become accustomed to the fact that from every destruction and ruin we build ourselves up, and from all the bad things that have befallen Jewish settlement in the past, the people of Israel built itself and progressed," National Union MK Ya'akov Katz said.

"We do not despair because out of all these expulsions we grow stronger, and the fact of the matter is that we have 350 thousand Jews in Judea and Samaria," Katz said. "We are seeing the birth of Jews, thank God, and we do not despair nor do we panic."

IDF: No plans for lightning evacuation of outposts

The IDF said on Tuesday that it had received no orders from the political echelons for a lightning evacuation of West Bank outposts, and denied having begun preparatory operations for such a move.

Amid the increased tension between the United States and Israel surrounding construction in the settlements, Haaretz learned that the Israel Defense Forces was drafting a plan to evacuate 23 illegal outposts in one day.

"The IDF is subordinate to the political echelon and implements its instructions, but such an order was never received," the IDF Spokesman's Office said in a statement.

The army was also said to be conducting preparations to forcibly evacuate the outposts in plan formulated by the security establishment, with the knowledge of Netanyahu.

The statement on Tuesday, however, described the drills in question as preparation for daily confrontations in the West Bank, and not designed to contend with imminent outpost evacuations.

In talks with the United States, Israel had said it would clear out 23 outposts built after March 2001 that it had told the George W. Bush administration it would evacuate five years ago.

So far as is known, a timetable has not been set for the evacuations.

Police on Monday evacuated three illegal structures in various outposts. In response, settlers torched Palestinian olive groves, threw stones at Palestinian cars and blocked roads around the West Bank.

Two Palestinians were lightly hurt, as were a soldier and a settler. Five settlers were arrested.

The first joint exercise to prepare for the large-scale evacuation was carried out last week. It involved the Border Police, the police and the IDF.

The drill, led by the Border Police, was held at a military base more than a week ago, with police and IDF participation. Senior officers, including the IDF's West Bank commander Noam Tibon, watched the drill.

The forces practiced handling mass riots and evacuating settlers entrenched in an outpost.

Police sources told Haaretz, "The difference between this drill and former ones is the extent of the forces that took part and the participation of the IDF and police along with Border Police."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has promised to clear out these 23 outposts, but said it was a matter of law enforcement and was not addressed in talks with the Americans over freezing settlement construction.

In practice, though, the political leaders know that evacuating the outposts meets U.S. demands, and that it will ultimately be part of a final deal. Associates of Barak say they sense the parties are close to an understanding, and that the first step will be evacuating the outposts. However, these statements were made before the crisis erupted over construction in East Jerusalem.

The IDF will try to keep its evacuation preparations, particularly dates, as foggy as possible. IDF leaders realize many soldiers identify with the settlers, and could potentially leak the plans to evacuation opponents. Therefore, as few people as possible will be let in on the plans.

While the IDF and the police managed to surprise settlers in December when they evacuated a house in Hebron, it will be more difficult this time around, because many more sites are slated for evacuation, and a large number of forces will have to be involved.

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has said several times that he prefers the IDF not be on the front lines of evacuating outposts, and that police units specializing in crowd control should do the job.