Jewish settlers cut deal with Barak

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The Independent Online

JEWISH SETTLERS backed down from threats of confrontation with the Israeli government last night and agreed not to stand in the way of the evacuation of 12 West Bank outposts that the government has deemed illegal.

JEWISH SETTLERS backed down from threats of confrontation with the Israeli government last night and agreed not to stand in the way of the evacuation of 12 West Bank outposts that the government has deemed illegal.

It was a victory for Prime Minister Ehud Barak who can now proceed unhampered with the first major evacuation of Jewish settlements since 1995. Clearing out the outposts sets the stage for removing settlements from the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish their own state.

According to the compromise hammered out last night, the settler's leaders have agreed that residents will leave the illegal outposts peacefully in returning for reducing the number to be evacuated from 15 to 12. Earlier the settlers had threatened a face-off with authorities, claiming the planned evacuation could lead to the kind of protests Mr Barak wants to avoid as he heads into prickly final status negotiations with the Palestinians.

The existence of the outposts threatens to undermine the tough negotiating stance he is likely to adopt when it comes to addressing the future of larger, government-sponsored settlements on the West Bank.

Israel has been reinforcing such settlements - particularly those close to Jerusalem - to strengthen its claim for sovereignty over them in the finaltalks. This week, to the intense annoyance of the Palestinians, Mr Barak signed approval for tenders on 2,600 new homes for Jews on the West Bank.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the lead Palestinian negotiator at final-status talks, has said that Mr Barak had made "crazy decisions" on the new tenders that could wreck the delicately balanced negotiations.

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