Peres to Blair: Two West Bank Settlements Could Be Evacuated

Dotan, Hermesh named for evacuation; move seen as step in kick-starting stalled peace process.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres on Sunday proposed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that two isolated settlements in the northern West Bank be evacuated.

Peres did not mention the names of the two communities to Blair, but has said in private conversations that the residents of the communities of Dotan and Hermesh want to leave.

Peres suggested that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discuss the additional withdrawal in planned talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He said the withdrawal would be presented as the third stage in the evacuation from the territories called for in the Oslo Accords.

Peres believes Israel must take the initiative instead of responding to outside pressure, and that such a step will signal its seriousness about the diplomatic process. Israel carried out the two previous withdrawals called for in the Oslo Accords during the tenures of prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak.

Both men opposed the third step.

Former legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry Alan Baker proposed earlier that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip be considered the third stage as per Oslo, however then-prime minister Ariel Sharon opposed any linkage between between Oslo and the disengagement.

The evacuation of Dotan and Hermesh, which are situated between the PA areas and have a total of 500 residents, was considered and rejected during the disengagement last summer when the pullout from four other settlements was determined.