The U.S. has renewed pressure on Israel to evacuate illegal outposts in the West Bank and has asked Jerusalem to broaden efforts to help West Bank Palestinians in the run-up to the Annapolis peace summit next month.
During talks in Jerusalem late last week, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the U.S. expects Israel to take measures that will assist Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Hadley's message was that if Israel wants to delay the discussions on the core issues - refugees, Jerusalem and borders - it must help the Palestinians change the situation on the ground and evacuate the outposts.
Israel has promised to evacuate all the outposts set up in the West Bank after March 2001, but has failed to abide by this. The U.S. administration has not raised the issue for the past three years in light of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Hadley also made it clear that the White House is fully coordinated with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, dismissing any impression that Rice is acting independently and that her efforts do not enjoy the backing of President George W. Bush.
Rice is due to return to the region early next week, and will continue her meetings with the two sides in preparation for the Annapolis summit, which is expected to take place in about a month.
Hadley has met twice with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and has met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. He has also met with Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu.
A meeting was also held with Dov Weissglas, who handled ties with the White House during the tenure of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
A political source in Jerusalem said yesterday that Olmert will not remove outposts before the Annapolis summit.
"He will not light a fire or [cause] internal disputes and then take off for Annapolis," the source said.
However, Foreign Minister Livni has said that "we will have to do something about the outposts."
Livni and her aides believe that the years of backpedaling on the issue of outposts offers the Palestinians a negotiating advantage vis-a-vis Israel's security demands.
Olmert and Barak discussed the outposts in one of their meetings recently, and agreed to continue, for the time being, discussions with the Yesha Council on evacuating by accord. To date, the discussions with Yesha, which represents settlers, have come to naught.
"We will not wait for the settlers forever," a political source said. "Evacuation by accord will be the least painful, but if this doesn't work, we will evacuate them without accord."
The source said Olmert is planning a new round of goodwill gestures and measures to improve the lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank before the summit, and may also consider releasing more prisoners.
During their meeting, Barak presented Hadley with a list of goodwill actions that have already been carried out, including the lifting of 25 roadblocks and checkpoints. He also pointed to the green light Israel gave the PA to deploy police officers in Nablus.
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