Sunday, May 24, 2009

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PM: No new settlements, but natural growth will be answered

May 24, 2009

Amid a flurry of comments among politicians regarding the possible evacuation of numerous illegal outposts in the West Bank, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday not to build new settlements while assuring that "natural expansion" will not go unanswered.

SLIDESHOW: Israel & Region World

"We are obliged to protect the law," he said during the weekly cabinet meeting. "We won't establish new settlements, but there is no logic in not providing an answer to natural expansion."
Prior to the meeting, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that nearly two dozen illegal outposts in the West Bank will be dismantled, with force if necessary.

"There are 26 illegal outposts - declared as such by the Talia Sasson Commission - which the [Ariel Sharon] government promised the Americans would be evacuated," he told ministers. "But this isn't the issue between us and the Americans, and us and the Palestinians, rather first and foremost between us and ourselves."

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"This is an issue of the rule of law in the state, and the authority of the law over its citizens," Barak continued. "We have evacuated three outposts, come to an understanding with another, and have not allowed any addition outposts to be constructed."

"The 22 additional outposts must be taken care of now, and in a responsible and correct way," the defense minister said. "First through trying to work something out with negotiations, and if that's not possible, through unilateral means, including the use of force."

Before Barak made his remarks, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman emphasized his opposition to unilaterally dismantling outposts in the West Bank, and said that such a move should be part of the greater peace process which inevitably would require equivalent action from the Palestinians.

"One needs to understand that a return to the '67 borders with today's circumstances won't end the conflict and won't bring security and peace, but rather will transfer the conflict to within the '67 borders," he said.

"This cannot be an individual initiative," Lieberman continued. "There is no point in unveiling another plan, the correct outline is the Road Map, in stages."

"Even if we will have to evacuate this outpost or another, we will do so, but it must be part of a bigger picture," he said.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz also spoke against possible evacuations, telling ministers during the meeting that Israel "cannot let the agenda be seen as a hunting expedition against settlements in the West Bank."

Earlier, Israel Radio reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised Defense Minister Ehud Barak his full support on any decision made to evacuate illegal outposts in the West Bank.

According to the report, Netanyahu made the comments while briefing Barak and President Shimon Peres last Thursday on the visit to Washington and his meeting with President Barack Obama and other senior US officials.

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