Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak plans to dismantle 15 rogue settlements in the West Bank but will allow 27 others to remain in place, a senior official from Barak's office said today.
The official said Barak informed settlement leaders in a meeting that 15 of the 42 outposts were illegal and would be uprooted. He said 11 outposts would be kept and the other 16 would for the moment not be touched, although new building would be forbidden.
"He told them he attaches importance to settlement activity in the West Bank, but isolated and remote settlements will not help as we negotiate the permanent borders of the state of Israel," the official said.
He said Barak has given the settlers until Wednesday morning to appeal the decision and "bring new material that could change the decision slightly." Settler leaders said they would lobby Israelis for their support to stop Barak's crackdown on settlements.
"He has crossed all the red lines. We will launch a public campaign against his plans and tomorrow we will hold an emergency meeting to plan our strategy," settler spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yosef said after meeting with Barak.
Barak has consulted settlers in an attempt to avoid the angry scenes between Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers that took place in 1995 when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called in troops to dismantle settler outposts that were set up without prior government authorization.
"The things we heard do not comply with his [Barak's] promise to be the prime minister of everyone and to carry out serious consultations with Israeli citizens living in the West Bank and Gaza," a statement from the settler council said.
Palestinian officials said Barak's decision was a step in the right direction but they criticized the Israeli prime minister for not going far enough.
"There's no such thing as legal settlements. To have a meaningful peace process, all settlements must be dismantled and all international laws say that settlements are illegal," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
A ministerial committee gave Barak a free hand to decide the fate of the 42 outposts, many of which were built in recent months to create "facts on the ground" before Israel and the Palestinians negotiate a final peace deal.
Although Israel and the Palestinians formally launched final status talks last month, the negotiations aimed at resolving the disputes at the heart of the conflict have foundered as Barak wrestles with domestic disputes over settlements.
Some 170,000 Jews live in 160 settlements scattered among nearly three million Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.