Olmert to Offer Settlers: Expand Blocs, Cut Outposts

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to open an "internal dialogue" with the Yesha council of settlements if he wins the elections, in an effort to reach an agreement about Israel's withdrawal line in the West Bank, he told Haaretz in an interview.

Olmert said he plans to offer the settler leaders a deal: convergence into the large settlement blocs and the expansion of those blocs, and evacuation of those settlements beyond whatever border is set. Government investments beyond the Green Line will match the future map.

"I believe that in four years' time Israel will be disengaged from the vast majority of the Palestinian population, within new borders, with the route of the fence - which until now has been a security fence - adjusted to the new line of the permanent borders," he said.

"It could be that there will be cases in which we move the fence eastward, and it could be that there will be cases in which we move it westward, in accordance with a line that we will agree upon. We will take a crucial step forward in the shaping of Israel as a Jewish state, in which there is a solid and stable Jewish majority that is not at risk."

The full interview appears in today's Week's End section.

Olmert will attempt to garner domestic and international support for shaping Israel's permanent border with the Palestinians. He wants to make sure Israel holds on to Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim, the Jerusalem envelope and Gush Etzion; establish the Jordan Valley as a security border and provide the Israel Defense Forces with freedom of action in the West Bank, similar to the post-disengagement situation in the Gaza Strip.

Olmert also promises to build up the E-1 area linking Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. The plan was frozen last year due to American opposition, but according to Olmert, Israelis agree there should be contiguity, while the Palestinians and Americans recognize there will be.

"It is completely clear that the contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim will be built up," said Olmert. "This is clear both to the Palestinians and to the U.S. In my opinion, on this matter there is a full consensus in Israel."

Olmert said there is now a "window of opportunity" for reaching an international agreement on setting the border, in the wake of Hamas' rise to power and domestic support following the Gaza pullout.

If the Hamas-led Palestinian government accepts the prerequisites of disarmament, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements, Olmert is prepared to negotiate with Hamas based on the roadmap. But his comments indicate he doesn't think this option has much of a chance.