Olmert: Separation Fence to Be Completed by End of Year

During visit to West Bank town, Acting PM vows to settlers Ariel will remain part of Israel proper.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday told settlers the State of Israel intends to complete the construction of the separation fence around the West Bank within several months.

"By the end of the year we plan to finish the security fence," Olmert said during a visit to the West Bank settlement town of Ariel.

During his visit to Ariel Olmert made a pledge to designate the settler town and its environs a part of Israel proper: "Ladies and gentlemen, I want to be clear on this, the Ariel block will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel under any situation."

Official sources said he wished to bring a "message of conciliation" to the settlers, and a commitment to the settlement blocs. Olmert was also expected to call on West Bank settlers to join his "internal dialogue" on fixing a border between Israel and the Palestinians.

Olmert was scheduled to inaugurate a new water pipe to the town, which will pass near the new Highway 5 route, replacing the existing pipe in the Palestinian village of Bidia. The pipe's inauguration will illustrate Olmert's intention to continue investing state funds in the infrastructure of the settlement blocs slated to be annexed to Israel.

The event comes two weeks after Olmert promised that "in the next few years Israel will not invest in construction and development of infrastructure beyond the Green Line."

In weekend interviews with the media, Olmert presented his plan to withdraw from most West Bank territories to a new border that would surround the large settlement blocs - Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, and Jerusalem's Old City and adjacent neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. He also spoke of evacuating the settlements that remain outside the separation fence.

Sources in Kadima's campaign staff have already said that Olmert intends to make a course correction to the right after his statements regarding the pullout. The visit in Ariel is supposed to illustrate his commitment to the settlement blocs, and to show that keeping them in Israel is at the center of his political plan.

Channel 2 television reported Monday that construction work had begun on the new police headquarters in the E-1 zone between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. The plan is to build a large neighborhood in this area. The U.S. objects to its construction for fear of obstructing the territorial contiguity of the future Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved building the police headquarters in E-1 last August, and the U.S. did not voice an objection.

"Beginning the construction had nothing to do with Olmert, it was on the basis of an old plan," a Jerusalem source said.

Olmert said in the weekend interviews that the neighborhood in E-1 will be built to create an Israeli territorial contiguity from Jerusalem to Ma'aleh Adumim. If there is no continuity, he said, Ma'aleh Adumim would be an island or an enclave.