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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Olmert dusts off West Bank pullout plan

JERUSALEM The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has revived plans for a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank.

Olmert has been discussing options for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank over the next year as part of an effort to help establish a Palestinian state led by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East Newsline reported. The options included the expulsion of an estimated 60,000 Jews from areas that would comprise the new Palestinian state.

"Olmert and [Foreign Minister] Tsipi Livni have agreed to formulate a proposal for a mini-Palestinian state that would require a major withdrawal from the West Bank during the remaining term of [U.S.] President Bush," an official said.

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In 2006, Olmert ran on an election platform that called for Israeli unilateral withdrawal from what officials said comprised more than 90 percent of the West Bank. The plan was shelved in wake of the Hizbullah war in mid-2006.

Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon, Olmert's leading ally in the Cabinet, has submitted a plan for a withdrawal from at least 70 percent of the West Bank. Under the plan, the military would expel Jews from about 50 settlements, particularly in the areas of Nablus and Hebron.

"The question is what to do in the situation we're in today," Ramon said. "We have to find a bilateral solution that would enable reaching understandings with both the settlers and the Palestinians."

On July 16, President George Bush called for the dismantling of unauthorized Jewish outposts as well as a settlement freeze in the West Bank. Officials said the Olmert government has approved the destruction of scores of Jewish outposts in 2007, and that the military was identifying the first targets.

Officials said the Ramon plan marked one of several Israeli options to facilitate a Palestinian state in the West Bank led by Abbas. They said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been pressing the Olmert government to revive Israel's unilateral withdrawal policy, which led to the pullout from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in 2005.

"It is still in the initial stages," Ramon said on July 16.

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