In an interview with Israel Hayom to be published in full tomorrow, Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak has made the case for a possible evacuation of dozens of West Bank settlements, even in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
In excerpts published by Israel Hayom today, Barak stressed that, ‘It is preferable to reach an agreement with the Palestinians’, and although he described Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas as ‘a partner’, Barak emphasised that responsibility for the lack of progress on an agreement ‘is on the Palestinian side’.
Barak said that if an agreement with the Palestinians is not possible, then concrete action should be taken to ‘begin separation’. Barak said that the major settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel, which account for around 90% of the Jewish population of the West Bank, would remain under Israeli control. Barak said that he would also retain a military presence in strategic spots such as the Jordan Valley.
However, according to Barak, dozens of smaller settlements would be evacuated, with the remaining territory becoming a Palestinian state. Barak said that those residents evacuated would be compensated financially and could be re-settled as entire communities in existing towns in Israel. He also raised the possibility that West Bank residents could be allowed to remain under the control of the PA for a trial period of five years.
Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting more than 8000 settlers from their homes. Though the move had the support of a majority of Israelis at the time, the subsequent rise to power of Hamas in the Gaza Strip damaged the credibility of the idea of unilateral disengagement. Barak oversaw a unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli military forces from Southern Lebanon when he was Prime Minister in 2000.