JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israel will expand a Jewish enclave in the occupied West Bank to absorb dozens of settlers listed for eviction from a hilltop outpost built six years ago without government authorisation, an official said on Tuesday.
A U.S.-sponsored “road map” for peace, reaffirmed at an Annapolis summit last year, calls for Israel to freeze all settlement activity on land Palestinians want for a state.
Israel has continued to expand settlements it intends to hold onto as part of a peace deal, but says it will not build new enclaves in land it captured in a 1967 war or confiscate more Palestinian land for settlers.
Israel’s Defence Ministry, seeking to avoid violent confrontations with settlers vowing to resist evacuation from the Migron outpost near Ramallah, has agreed to move them peacefully to another enclave.
A ministry official denied to Reuters that Israel had agreed to build a new settlement for the 40 families living in Migron, but said “an agreement in principle” was reached to expand an existing settlement to absorb them.
Ishai Hollander, spokesman for the settlers’ YESHA council, said on Monday that the Defence Ministry had proposed building a new settlement near Migron for those listed for evacuation. The ministry initially declined to comment.
Israel’s high court had given the ministry until this month to present a plan for removal of the outpost, built without government authorisation on privately owned Palestinian land.
The defence official said the settlers would not be moved until new homes had been built elsewhere, which could take months.
Some half a million Israelis live among 2.5 million Palestinians in West Bank settlements branded illegal by the World Court. Migron is one of the biggest of dozens of outposts that Israel itself considers unlawful.
The Palestinians have already accused Israel of bad faith during the nine-month-old Annapolis peace process for approving the expansion of other settlements, mostly in and around Jerusalem. Last month a defence panel proposed building an entirely new settlement in the Jordan Valley.
In his talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert has proposed returning 92.7 percent of the occupied West Bank and all the Gaza Strip, according to Western and Palestinian officials.
Scandal-hit Olmert, who announced he would resign when his party chooses a new leader next month, has also proposed a 5.3 percent land swap for major settlement blocs which Israel wants to keep as part of any accord.