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Israel Considers Paying Settlers to Leave West Bank


In a sign of progress in Middle East peace talks, Israel is considering a plan to lure Jewish settlers away from the occupied West Bank. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

For the first time, Israel's Cabinet discussed a plan to compensate Jewish settlers in the West Bank if they leave their homes voluntarily.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is engaged in ongoing, serious peace talks with the Palestinians, and it is clear that settlements will be dismantled under an emerging agreement.

Therefore, he said, Israel must be prepared to take the necessary steps to provide alternative housing for the settlers.

Israel has reportedly offered the Palestinians about 93 percent of the West Bank, which means that dozens of isolated settlements would be evacuated.

Under the compensation offer, each settler family would receive about $280,000 to move back to Israel.

The Cabinet did not vote on the plan and some ministers expressed opposition.

Cabinet Minister Rafi Eitan said settlers should not be removed from their homes until a peace deal is final, and proposing it now weakens Israel's position in negotiations.

Settlement leaders are furious, saying the government has not learned the lessons of the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip three years ago, when 21 Jewish communities were dismantled. Israel Meidad lives in the West Bank settlement of Shilo.

"It is impossible for the people who want to achieve peace and security for Israel to see how that can be done with the current situation of withdrawal, yielding up and surrendering of territory," said Meidad.

Since the withdrawal from Gaza, Palestinians there have fired thousands of rockets at Israel. And the settlers say the same thing will happen in the West Bank, if Israel pulls out.

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