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Sharon Hails Settlers, Challenges ‘Roadmap’

Sharon Hails Settlers, Challenges ‘Roadmap’ on Settlements, ‘Bluffs’ World on ‘Outposts’

The Israeli Knesset (parliament) on Monday approved PM Sharon’s statement that the fate of the illegal Jewish settlements would be determined in final-status negotiations with the Palestinians on a peace treaty, in a new challenge to the US-sponsored “roadmap” peace plan, which calls in its first stage for a freeze on settlement activity.

“There is no point in talking about it now,” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Knesset members.

The “roadmap,” drafted and adopted by the Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, calls on Israel to dismantle immediately settler “outposts” set up since Sharon took office in March 2001 and to freeze all settlement activity.

In a short speech interrupted by heckling from opposition lawmakers, Sharon said the fate of 145 established settlements built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 would be determined during talks over a permanent peace accord.

He said such talks would come in the final stages of the plan backed by the Quartet.

“We have no intention of dealing with this now. It would not be in Israel's interest,” said Sharon, who has said he is ready to make “painful concessions” for peace, which some interpret as meaning the one-time settler champion could remove settlements.

Sharon also praised the illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories, saying that the there has been an attempt to disgrace them, while they endure murderous attacks, Haaretz quoted the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) radio as saying.

The international community views all Jewish settlements as illegal.

Sharon Requests More Funds for Separation Wall

Moreover, Sharon has urged MPs in his Likud party to vote in favor of extra funding for the construction of a fence separating Israel from the West Bank.

Sharon wants an extra 170-thousand US dollars to speed up work on the so-called “security fence,” aimed at preventing infiltrations by Palestinian activists.

The fence cuts deep into occupied Palestinian territory at several points in order to protect Jewish settlements and also leaves several Palestinian villages cut off from the rest of the West Bank, and confiscates thousands of dunums of Palestinian agricultural areas, thus depriving thousands of Palestinian farmers of their only source of income.

Israel ‘Bluffs’ World on ‘Outposts’

Sharon however pledged Monday to remove “illegal” settler outposts in the West Bank to meet a demand made in a US-backed peace plan that also calls for a freeze on all settlement activity.

In his statement to the Israeli parliament, which met during summer recess to discuss pressing issues, Sharon acknowledged intense international pressure to dismantle the sparsely inhabited hilltop outposts.

“Leaders around the world, including our best friends, have protested their existence to me and to ministers,” said Sharon. “I have said before, to the cabinet and at (the June 4 peace summit in) Aqaba, that illegal outposts will be dismantled.”

The Knesset voted 47 to 27 with one abstention to back Sharon’s policy statement, which gave no time frame for the removal of what settlement-monitoring groups say are more than 100 illegal outposts.

By describing these settler outposts as “illegal” the Israeli officials mean their building was not authorized by the Israeli government.

The Israeli National Religious Party MKs voted for the decision, while the three members of the National Union abstained, the IOF Radio reported.

Only a handful of the hilltop settlements, usually only a few temporary structures, have been dismantled since the US-led Aqaba summit and peace groups say those removed have already been replaced.

Sharon said that Israeli governments in the past have removed illegally built settlements, “and this is how we intend to act in the future.”

Opposition members told the parliament that while Israeli forces had removed eight of the unauthorized outposts, settlers had put up at least seven new ones in the meantime.

The IOF reported Monday that it has dismantled 13 of the 15 outposts ordered for evacuation. But the Israeli “Peace Now” organization said that there are still 50 illegal outposts that have not been removed.

Two weeks ago US administration officials calculated the number of illegal outposts has decreased by one only, Haaretz reported.

“It's all a bluff,” Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said in the meeting. “They dismantle outposts, then they return, and a blind eye is turned. The establishment of outposts is intended to prevent a territorial continuity between Palestinian towns,” Gal-On said.

Labor MK Haim Ramon said in the meeting that Arik (Sharon’s nickname) met with Zambish (one of the heads of the Yesha Council) on Friday and that “on Sunday Sharon had to deal with what Arik had done.”

Sharon’s promise, which failed to address the “roadmap”s call for a halt to settlement construction, failed to impress Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan al-Khatib.

“This is unacceptable because it is not in line with Israel's obligation under the roadmap that says Israel should dismantle the rogue outposts and stop construction in existing ones,” Khatib told Reuters.

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