For the first time, Israel has outlined in some detail plans for a unilateral withdrawal from many West Bank settlements.
It is conditional on a Kadima victory in this month’s general election but the office of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says that, unlike in the Gaza Strip, it will not be accompanied by a military pullout.
Since Hamas won Palestinian elections in January, Israel has believed that a negotiated settlement is no longer possible and the internationally-sponsored “road map” peace plan is dormant, if not dead. Hamas itself calls it “illegitimate”.
Israel will keep the Ariel and Maale Adumim settlements and the Gush Etzion bloc attached to East Jerusalem and relocate people from other colonies to the trio.
Opinion polls suggest most Israelis would support this and today’s details may give Kadima an electoral boost. Its big lead has been whittled away in recent weeks.
However Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the plan will “only add to complications” and Hamas leaders currently visiting Moscow agreed, saying that Israel was “forcing unilateral measures and creating new facts on the ground.”
On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Olmert to brief him on his meetings with Hamas leaders. Led by Khaled Meshaal, they met with Patriarch Alexis, leader of the Orthodox Church, before leaving the country. During the trip, Hamas maintained their refusal to recognise Israel, or to disarm.
Olmert said on Sunday that it was a mistake for Moscow to talk to Hamas and that it would only encourage Hamas to maintain its current positions.