PM to Settler Council: We Will Have to Make Concessions

Yesha council calls meeting with Olmert to express fears over possible land concessions in Annapolis deal.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told heads of the Yesha council of settlements on Tuesday that in efforts to make peace with the Palestinians, "we will be forced to make some concessions."

Olmert on Tuesday met with Yesha, an organization representing the various municipal councils of religious Jewish settlements, in efforts to dispel some of their fears ahead of the upcoming peace conference scheduled for November 26 in Annapolis, Maryland.

During the meeting, which was held at the request of Yesha representatives in Jerusalem, the sides discussed freezing settlement construction. The Yesha council representatives called the meeting to express their concerns over the return of lands to the Palestinians under a possible future peace accord.

"I see the future in a slightly different way than you do," Olmert said. "I know that in order to ensure a future for Israel as a Jewish democratic state, we will have no choice but to make some concessions. I feel that on this point I am embroiled in a heartbreaking disagreement with your public, a public that I myself was part of."

Olmert added that "I can say with certainty that there are lands that I would never withdraw from, and this is something that both the Palestinians and the Americans know. My feelings regarding Israel and its land are similar to yours. I have no doubt that every grain of soil from Jordan to the sea is a part of Eretz Israel and is intrinsically connected to the legacy and history of our people."

Olmert said during the course of the meeting that he understands the fears of the Jewish settlers and the resentment they may have developed toward the state. He added that he would like to conduct a dialogue with the settlers, and that he intends to meet with them soon, when there is progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians.

The Yesha council representatives described their feeling at the end of the meeting as "a feeling of an imminent tsunami." Yesha council Chairman Danny Dayan said that now he and his associates understand that the state's total freeze on West Bank settlements is not simply pressure to remove settlers but rather an independent political policy.

"We described to Olmert the total freeze on settlements [in effect] which includes kindergartens, caravans for schools and lack of consideration for natural crops. He didn't say anything, and didn't contradict our statements," Dayan said.

"We warned him that the evacuation of over 100,000 people from their homes, is not at all similar to the evacuation of 10,000 people from Gush Katif [in the Gaza Strip] two years ago," Dayan added. "It's like comparing a flood in Pardes Hannah to a huge tsunami. We told Olmert that such an expulsion will break the neck of Israel's society. More and more people will begin to resent the state and its institutions. It will not at all be like what we went through with Gush Katif."