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Israeli Lawmakers Divided Over Dismantling Jewish Outposts

Israel's decision to dismantle unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank has sparked an emotionally charged debate among the country's lawmakers. The issue has highlighted the divisions among political factions over whether Jews have the right to continue settling the territory.

Israel this week put Jewish settlers on notice, that those who have established outposts in the West Bank without government approval will be evicted and their dwellings dismantled.

The government says it will move first against four outposts, including Ginnot Arieh, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah. The 25 people of the tiny community say the security forces will have to forcibly remove them from their homes. And they are not without their supporters.

Israeli cabinet minister Zevulen Orlev is demanding that the issue first be brought to the cabinet for discussion.

And even if the evacuation proceeds, he wants to secure an agreement with Yesha, the organization that represents the settlers, that there will be no violent confrontation with soldiers.

But members of the National Religious Party, a parliamentary faction that backs the settlers, say they are not willing to leave the government over the issue of the outposts.

One of the party's lawmakers, Shaul Yahalom, says it needs to remain in the coalition to give the settlers a voice inside the cabinet.

"We [have] to see how many outposts they are, if the outposts are with people or without people," he said. "Everything will come under consideration. And we will decide if we can influence, stop all that is going on [and for the meantime] we will remain [in the cabinet].

His party has long defended the right of Jews to settle in the West Bank, an area it refers to by its biblical names Judea and Samaria.

At the same time, the faction is reluctant to support those Jews who set up illegal outposts.

Yossi Sarid of the left-wing Meretz Party is against any Jewish settlements. And he accuses the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, of deceiving the public, saying he has been slow to act against the settlers.

"The prime minister is an expert as far as misleading is concerned," he said. "And he is misleading everybody in Israel and abroad. There is a lot of talking about dismantling, but up to the present moment not even one single settlement has been removed. So we have to say enough is enough."

The Palestinian minister for negotiations, Saeb Erekat, says he has the same assessment. He says the planned removal of the outposts is nothing more than what he called a public-relations exercise.

"We have seen such stunts before," said Mr. Erekat. "We have seen such public relations campaigns before. This is a broken record of removing an empty caravan here, an empty caravan there."

Mr. Erekat says Israel is in fact obliged under the international Roadmap to Peace plan to freeze all settlement activity and to dismantle all outposts established since March 2001.

But, he says, there is no evidence that Israel has fulfilled its obligations, and there are now more settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip then when the Roadmap was first launched last May.