Olmert to Evacuate W. Bank Outposts This Year

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is planning to initiate the evacuation of illegal outposts in the West Bank in the coming months, political sources in the capital said yesterday.

"This year we will see the evacuation of outposts," the sources said, and the appointment of Ehud Barak to the Defense Ministry will bolster Olmert's ability to deal with this issue.

A short while after taking over from an ailing Ariel Sharon, Olmert ordered the evacuation of nine homes from the Amona outpost in January 2006. The evacuation deteriorated into a violent clash between settlers and security forces, and the prime minister has since avoided evacuating any other outposts in the West Bank.

Several months ago, then defense minister Amir Peretz, presented Olmert with a proposal for the evacuation of several small outposts, but the prime minister rejected the proposal, arguing that an "overall plan is necessary."

The sources pointed out to two main reasons for Olmert's change of attitude:

1. A promise made to the United States. Israel promised the U.S. administration, while Ariel Sharon was prime minister, that it would evacuate outposts established after March 2001. This was not carried out despite strong American pressure on Sharon. On the eve of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the U.S. ceased publicly demanding that the outposts in the West Bank be evacuated.

"We are failing in our commitment to the Americans, and even if they are also giving Olmert breathing space, we must carry it out," the political sources said yesterday.

The American administration has been following the steps taken by the prime minister, and although it has not applied pressure, Israel's obligation has not been forgotten, the sources added.

2. Legal proceedings. There is an October 2006 Peace Now petition before the High Court of Justice regarding the evacuation of Migron, the largest of the outposts, which was established on private Palestinian property in the vicinity of Ramallah. The state admitted, in response to the petition, that Migron was set up without authorization on land recognized as belonging to Palestinians, and the only issue was whether the settlers would leave on their own or whether they would be evacuated forcefully by the authorities.

In recent months the state asked the court for several extensions before taking action. On May 1, the court was informed that the prime minister had asked then defense minister Peretz (on April 1) to prepare a plan within two months for the evacuation of the outposts, including Migron. Olmert had ordered that the evacuation should be carried out - "easiest first." Among the parameters for determining degree of difficulty in terms of evacuation were expected opposition, population size, legally obvious cases and outposts on private Palestinian land.

On June 10, the President of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch, instructed the state to update the court by July 8 on the progress of the evacuation plan.

"After receiving the update, I will decide on how to proceed with the petition," Beinisch wrote.

"We can ask the High Court for further extensions, but Olmert is planning to deal with the issue seriously," political sources said yesterday.