PM: Freeze Settlements, Dismantle Outposts

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced at the cabinet meeting yesterday that Israel will not build any new settlements in the territories, will stop expropriating land, and will dismantle illegal outposts, all according to the state's commitments in the first stage of the Road Map.

At the same time, Olmert emphasized: "We have no intention of strangling the existing settlements."

For over four hours cabinet ministers discussed the upcoming Annapolis peace summit scheduled for Tuesday, and almost everyone in attendance voiced an opinion on the matter.

"It is impossible to continue saying that the Road Map is a strategic asset for Israel, and at the same time ignore our commitments," Olmert said during the meeting.

"Let us admit to ourselves: we have promised not to build new settlements, and we will not build.

"We have promised not to expropriate land, we will not expropriate. We promised to remove illegal outposts, and we will remove them. We will not deviate from our principles, and we will meet our commitments," Olmert told the cabinet members. "Israel is not being dragged into the process, and no one is forcing us. We are coming to Annapolis of our own free will," he added.

"Anyone who understands that we are on the way to an agreement with the Palestinians understands that the territorial reality that exists today will no longer exist in the future," Olmert said. "Let us not delude ourselves."

However, in a step to calm ministers from Shas and Yisrael Beteinu, Olmert said: "There will not be a situation where the Palestinians do not fight terror and we make concessions."

Minister of Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman responded to Olmert's statements: "I hear Abu Mazen and at the same time Ahmed Tibi who reject the entire moral basis of Israel. Our founding fathers defined us as a Jewish state. We need to present an ultimatum on this point."

Olmert responded, "If the Palestinians do not accept Israel as a Jewish state, there will be no agreement."

On the day after Annapolis, said Olmert, the sides will conduct talks on the core issues of the permanent agreement.

"In talks with Abu Mazen, I felt there were significant issues with an unbridgeable gap, but we have to try," said Olmert. "It is forbidden to wait, and Israel must be seen as initiating and not being led."

During the discussion, there was a confrontation between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the Israeli negotiating team, and Deputy Prime Minster Haim Ramon.

Ramon accused Livni of not giving anything, while she responded that the problem was that he had created the impression that the Palestinians would get what they wanted even before Annapolis.