Israel Plans Crackdown on West Bank Settlement Outposts

Israel is planning measures to curb settlement activity in the occupied territories. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the move comes in response to pressure from the United States.

Israel is planning a crackdown on illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank.

Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Israel Radio that he expects the government to take action against the outposts during and after the visit of President Bush to Israel and the West Bank next week.

The outposts are often built on West Bank hilltops, and usually consist of a few trailers or makeshift structures. Israel is obligated to dismantle about 100 outposts under the internationally backed "Roadmap" peace plan, which forms the basis of new negotiations with the Palestinians. But most of the outposts remain in place despite past pledges by Israel to remove them.

The new pledge by Mr. Ramon appears to be a response to American pressure. On Thursday, President Bush described Jewish settlements as an "impediment" to the peace process, and said the outposts should be dismantled.

The settlers accuse the Israeli government of betrayal, saying it is caving in to the dictates of the Unites States. Settlement activist Nadia Matar promises fierce resistance if soldiers and police try to remove the outposts.

"We must organize to prevent [the] giving away of our homeland to the Arab enemy," she said, "and the message is very clear: We are a generation of committed Jews, who do not fear internal or external enemies of the Jewish people."

The government is reluctant to move against the outposts because, in the past, that has sparked violent clashes between settlers and security forces.

Now, Israel is facing a test case that is casting doubt on the goal of reaching a final peace agreement by the end of this year. If removing small outposts has proven to be so difficult, the Palestinians wonder how Israel will do what they say is necessary for peace, namely, removing some 150 full-fledged settlements in the West Bank.

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