Peretz Weighs Legalizing Some West Bank Settlement Outposts

Government and Yesha Council may reach deal to evacuate some outposts and legalizing the rest.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz is considering granting legal status to some unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts, in exchange for which the Yesha Council of Settlements will evacuate the rest.

Security sources said Peretz met several times in recent days with leaders of the settlement movement. They said that negotiations continue on the issue of outpost evacuation.

Brigadier General Mike Herzog, chief of staff of Defense Minister Amir Peretz's office, is expected to lead the negotiations.

Peretz reaffirmed his position that "the guiding principle will be, 'whatever is not legal, will be eliminated.'"

Peretz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week that he is dedicating two weeks to talks with the settlers, after which an evacuation could be implemented by force.

"If advances are made," the sources said, "we will not stand with a stopwatch in hand. We have no interest in a confrontation in areas which could be evacuated through negotiations."

Peretz met with Amana Settlement Development Agency secretary general Ze'ev Hever on Wednesday as part of the ongoing negotiations between the government and the settlement leadership on the fate of the outposts.

Amana is the settlement arm of the Gush Emunim - Bloc of the Faithful - movement.

The two discussed the possibility that the Yesha council will evacuate some of the outposts, in exchange for which the remaining outposts will not be uprooted and may even be granted legal status.

The prime minister's Office received word of the discussions, which could lead to an agreement between the Yesha council and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government.

Kadima MK Otniel Schneller has also been involved recently in mediation efforts between the prime minister and Yesha leaders.

One of the outposts mentioned in the talks is Givat Asaf, located 3.5 kilometers from Beit El. According to the 2005 Sasson Report on unauthorized outposts, the outpost was built on private Palestinian property.

Peretz and settlement leaders are discussing the possibility that settlers will leave the outpost and a military base will be built on the site as an alternative to handing the area over to its Palestinian owners.

On Monday, Peretz told the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee that he is giving negotiations with the settler leadership two weeks to bear fruit.

Peretz told the committee that should the parties fail to reach an agreement within two weeks, the government will begin forcibly evacuating the outposts.

Yesha council sources said after the meeting that the ball is in the defense minister's court.

The Yesha council has in the past expressed a willingness to evacuate some outposts in exchange for the recognition of others.

The Yesha council is demanding among other things that even remote outposts be rebuilt should they receive legal clearance to do so. Yesha council sources argue that from a legal perspective, almost all of the outposts can be authorized, and that the decision not to do so is entirely political.