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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December, 2003, 17:05 GMT
The settlers' struggle
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News Online

Jewish settlers have reacted angrily to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announcement that unauthorised outposts and some Jewish settlements will be abandoned.

Migron is in the West Bank
The settler outpost of Migron has become the focus of the struggle
Mr Sharon made his comments while outlining a "disengagement plan" in case the "roadmap" for peace with the Palestinians fails.

Many settlers say they feel betrayed by the man who was seen as the champion of the settler movement.

Settlers have vowed to resist any attempt to remove them.

Although Mr Sharon did not mention any specific settlements by name, there are reports that in the long term it would affect 15-20 such communities.

Anger

In the immediate future, Mr Sharon says only the settlements not authorised by the government will be dismantled.

SETTLEMENTS FACTS
400,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza
130 settlements authorised by Israeli Governments
Approximately 100 un-authorised settlements, 60 built during Ariel Sharon's government
Israel spends about $500m on settlements annually - excluding security
Sources: Peace Now and Haaretz newspaper

Peace Now, an Israeli pressure group, says there are 103 such outposts, about 60% of which were constructed since Mr Sharon came to power in early 2001.

Many consist of little more than a collection of shipping containers or a few caravans.

Jewish settlements are widely regarded by international community as illegal under international law according to Fourth Geneva Convention (article 49), which prohibits an occupying power transferring citizens from its own territory to occupied territory.

An estimated 100 families would be affected by the dismantling of the unauthorised outposts.

There were immediate angry statements from settler leaders to Mr Sharon's announcement.

Pnchas Wallerstein, a settler leader, said: "Sharon is rewarding terror. He is using the words "relocating settlements", but it trying to end the vision of Greater Israel.

The closure of Yamit was part of a peace deal with Egypt
In 1982, Mr Sharon ordered the closure of Yamit settlement in the Sinai
"The whole settlement enterprise in Judaea, Samaria, and Gaza has been placed under siege, and the Israeli people will have to deal with it."

The head of the Yesha Council representing Jewish settlers, Benzi Lieberman, called Sharon's plan "the destruction of Zionism" and said the Israeli leader's coalition would face problems the moment it tried to remove settlements.

But, Nissan Slomiansky, a member of the Israeli parliament from the National Religious Party and a long-time leader in the settler movement said that the settlements Mr Sharon was talking about were likely to be in isolated locations.

"We are not talking about tens of thousands of settlers," he said. And he questioned whether the Israeli Prime Minister would in the end go through with his plan.

"Until now there has been only talk," Mr Slomiansky said.

'Giving in to terror'

Reports ahead of the prime minister's speech had said that his unilateral measures could involve a pull-out of all settlements in the Gaza strip.

Rivka Goldschmidt, a Jewish settler in Gaza, told the BBC that she and other settlers would not give up their homes easily.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon has long been seen as a champion of the settler cause
"You know we are a democratic country and we are not going to do anything which is illegal, but I promise you that we are going to give the government a very hard time if they carry out this operation.

"Because I don't believe that we have to be sacrificed for the sake of terrorism and nothingness,"

Tami Silberschein, a resident of the Netzarim settlement in Gaza, told the BBC that Ariel Sharon's plans amount to "giving in to terror".

Last stand

The unauthorised outpost of Migron, next to a larger Jewish settlement in the West Bank has become the immediate focus of the struggle between the government and the settlers.

There have been rumours that the outpost, which is home to some 40 families, is scheduled to be dismantled soon.

Migron is a symbol of the desire to uproot Jews from Judea and Samaria, straight and simple
Settler leader, Pnchas Wallerstein

One Israeli minister was even quoted as saying that if Migron was removed, his party, the right-wing National Union party would "not remain in government".

Settlers are drawing comparisons with the 1982 evacuation of the Yamit settlement in the Sinai as part of a peace deal with Egypt in 1980.

According to reports in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, settlers are making preparations for a last stand against forced removal - though some leaders are calling for restraint.

"Migron is a symbol of the desire to uproot Jews from Judea and Samaria, straight and simple," settler leader Pnchas Wallerstein said.

"This is how we must view it. It is obvious that if Migron is to be uprooted, there is certainly no intention to allow Psagot, Ofrah, Beit El and Shiloh to remain in place."

In Beit El, a stone's throw from the Palestinian town of Ramallah in the West Bank, Moshe Weissfish, is adamant that certain settlements would "never be moved."

"Settlements like Ariel or Maale Adumim have grown too large, they cannot be moved anymore. It's too late," he told the BBC.




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