Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s determination to evacuate illegal West Bank settlements may put him on a collision course with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and lead to a further deterioration in relations between the two leaders.
Peretz’ associates accuse Olmert of shirking the issue. The Prime Minister’s Office however insisted to Ynet that Olmert was “committed to clearing illegal outposts.”
“He intended to do so in an inclusive plan, as far as possible, with agreement (of the settlers) and without violence,” they said.
Defense Ministry officials closely associated with Peretz said, “We expect the prime minister to make a decision soon regarding the evacuation of illegal outposts.” They said Olmert was supposed to rule on the issue in the upcoming days but “he’s afraid and he’s buying time.”
'Afraid of Lieberman'The defense minister’s associates accuse the prime minister of evading making a decision fearing a political crisis with the hawkish leader of Israel Our Home, Avigdor Lieberman.
“He’s afraid of Lieberman and Kadima’s Likud people. He’s dragging it on because they don’t want to back him on this," Peretz associates said, adding that Olmert is "afraid of making decisive decisions."
The associates added that Peretz was determined to evacuate illegal outposts in the West Bank as he believed negotiations with the settlers have reached a dead end.
"It is unclear about which negotiations and which plan Olmert is speaking about," a Defense Ministry official told Ynet. "I wish it was possible to speak to the settlers, but there is no one to speak to."
Settler leaders have been seeking to get the government to agree to the peaceful evacuation of 10 percent of the illegal outposts in return for legalizing the rest.
But negotiations collapsed following the publication of recent aerial maps showing an increasing number of illegal outposts.
Ronny Sofer contributed to this article