Rivlin: Sharon Will Evacuate 17 West Bank Settlements

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to evacuate 17 settlements in the West Bank as part of a political agreement with the Palestinians, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, MK (Likud), said Monday.

In an interview with Haaretz, Rivlin said the settlements to be removed are those breaking the territorial contiguity of the future Palestinian state. The settlements earmarked for evacuation are probably Nokdim - the home of Minister Avigdor Lieberman - Tekoah, Ganim, Kadim, Homesh and other settlements near Nablus, Bethlehem and Binyamin.

Rivlin said Sharon insists on leaving Netzrim, Kfar Darom and all the Gush Katif settlements in place.

"When Sharon talks of painful concessions, he is referring to a concrete plan that he has already discussed with some of the settlers. Sharon has accepted the fact that if we want to live within borders that enable the Palestinians passage that does not go through our territory, a number of settlements will have to be evacuated," Rivlin said.

Rivlin said that when Sharon became prime minister, and earlier, in talks he had with former prime minister Ehud Barak, he had earmarked 17 settlements for evacuation. "Arik made it clear a number of times that their evacuation is necessary if we are to reach some agreement. Today there are small territorial divisions. They will be united and joined. Joining them will require the evacuation of about 17 settlements," Rivlin said.

Rivlin said that after hearing of Sharon's plans, he decided he could not serve as a minister in his cabinet. "When he offered me a minister's portfolio, I preferred to be Knesset speaker. I told him openly: Arik, we are now on a course of inevitable collision. I cannot release myself from my faith. I will not convert my religion," Rivlin said.