Israeli leader outlines West Bank withdrawal plan
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, left, reviews a map of the Gush Etzion settlement while on a tour Tuesday.
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Without negotiating with Palestinians, Israel plans to withdraw from the West Bank, but it will retain all major Jewish settlements and Jerusalem will remain intact, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday in an interview.
Olmert indicated, in an interview on Israel's Channel 2, that negotiations with the Palestinians, who recently elected the radical Islamic group Hamas to run its government, are no longer an option.
"We will separate from most of the Palestinian population that lives in Judea and Samaria, and that will obligate us to separate from territories that the state of Israel is in today," Olmert said, referring to the withdrawal from the West Bank. "We will gather into the main settlement blocs; we will keep Jerusalem unified."
The acting prime minister's reference to a unified Jerusalem is important because Israelis consider the city their capital, and Hamas has said it envisions the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Olmert said Israel will keep the three major settlements -- Ariel, Maaele Adumim and Gush Etzion -- along with areas of the Jordan Valley, near the Jordanian border.
Gush Etzion and Maaele Adumim are just south of Jerusalem, and Ariel is about 40 miles north of Jerusalem. According to the Israeli government, the combined population of the settlements was about 87,000 in 2004.
"Maaele Adumim is part of Israel. Gush Etzion is part of Israel. Ariel will be part of Israel," Olmert said. He added that Israel must maintain its settlements in the Jordan Valley because "we can't give up control of the eastern border of Israel."
CNN's initial efforts to obtain comment from Palestinian leaders were unsuccessful.
After Hamas routed Fatah in the January 25 Palestinian elections, Olmert told his Cabinet that Israel would have no contact with the Palestinians unless it received from Hamas "a clear abandonment of the path of terror, a recognition of Israel's right to exist in security and peace."
Despite last month's threat, Olmert said Tuesday that Israel will for now continue talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas leaders have refused to disarm and have refused to denounce their stance that Israel should be destroyed. (Full story)
The United States, European Union and Israel all consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization.
"We are going toward a separation from the Palestinians. We are going to determine a permanent border for the state of Israel," Olmert said. "We will keep Jerusalem unified. We will hold on to the main settlement blocs, but the borders we are thinking are not those in which the state of Israel is in today."
Olmert did not elaborate, but his comments marked the first time since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza that an Israeli leader explained in such detail what the country intends to do in its relations with the Palestinians.
Olmert, a close confidant of Sharon, will face the voters March 28 as the leader of the Kadima Party that Sharon recently founded. Recent polls indicate Kadima will easily win the largest bloc of seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.
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