Jerusalem, June 2 (Reuters): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will announce plans to uproot some rogue Jewish settler outposts at a summit with his Palestinian counterpart and US President George W. Bush, a diplomatic source said today.
Israel’s readiness to begin removing West Bank outposts, coming on the heels of promises from Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to rein in militant violence, could smooth the way for Wednesday’s landmark peace talks in Aqaba, Jordan.
But Bush, apparently playing down expectations for major strides forward, predicted the process would be difficult and said all parties would have to assume their responsibilities.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo dismissed Sharon’s outpost plan as “manoeuvres and lies”. He said it fell short of requirements of a US-backed peace “road map” for the removal of all settler enclaves built since March 2001.
The international community considers Israeli settlements in the occupied territories illegal. Israel disputes this.
Ahead of the Aqaba summit, Israel tightened security around Jerusalem, where dozens of people have been killed in suicide bombings. Police stepped up patrols in the city and set up additional roadblocks.
Bush called the summit to push forward the peace plan. It calls for an end to 32 months of violence, a freeze on settlement building on land seized by Israel in 1967 and creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
US envoys have met Israeli and Palestinian leaders since Friday seeking to hammer out a statement that would reflect their mutual commitment to implementing the road map. “My country, and I, will put in as much time as necessary to achieve the vision of two states living side by side in peace,” Bush told reporters as he sat with French President Jacques Chirac at the G8 summit in France.
Former Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Bush’s personal involvement in West Asian peacemaking was critical. “He must come to the summit with the mechanisms for implementation, with timelines and monitors, in order to immediately begin the implementation of the road map,” he said.
Under US pressure for goodwill gestures to the Palestinians, Sharon told his Cabinet yesterday he would declare his willingness to dismantle some of the settler outposts set up without government approval, the Israeli diplomatic source said.
The new enclaves consist mostly of small clusters of caravans placed on hilltops near established settlements.
Peace Now, a group that monitors settlement building, says there are more than 50 such outposts, but Israeli deputy defence minister Zeev Boim estimated on army radio that the government would probably only declare about 10 “illegal”. Sharon appeared in no rush to curtail construction in the nearly 150 established settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, seized by Israel in the 1967 war.
Sharon’s announcement to the 23 ministers sparked talk that at least one right-wing coalition partner, the National Religious Party, with close ties to the settler movement, might bolt the government. It holds two Cabinet seats.
Settlers, shocked by what seems an about-face by Sharon, a longtime champion of settlement building, have pledged to oppose the road map.