Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Vice premier says Israel will dictate new borders

UNILATERAL STEPS Defying the US, Ehud Olmert said a peace agreement with the Palestinians was impossible and Israel alone would decide on its territorial limits


A Palestinian man peers through the barrier seperating East Jerusalem from the West Bank town of Abu Dis on Thursday.


There is no chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, and Israel will have to draw its own borders, Israel's vice premier said in an interview published yesterday.

Vice Premier Ehud Olmert's comment came a week after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would take unilateral steps if peace talks with the Palestinians fail.

Olmert, who is considered close to Sharon, said unilateral steps are necessary because Israel is rapidly approaching the point where Arabs will outnumber Jews in areas under Israeli control.

"If I believed there was a real chance of reaching a [peace] agreement, I would advise making the effort," Olmert told the Yediot Ahronot daily, "but that is not the situation."

Olmert said Israel has two choices -- either to withdraw to the so-called Green Line, the frontier before the 1967 Middle East war, or an "inclusive unilateral move ... where we define our borders that will in no way be similar to the Green Line."

Sharon and prime ministers before him have said they will not withdraw to the 1967 borders.

The Palestinians and the US oppose unilateral Israeli moves, saying that a decision on borders should come as a result of a negotiated agreement. The Palestinians want a state in all the areas Israel captured in 1967 -- the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Olmert indicated that Israel would withdraw from some isolated settlements, as well as from some of the Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for a capital.

"I won't define the border," Olmert, who served as Jerusalem mayor for 10 years, told Yediot. "I will just say that it will be based on a maximization of the number of Jews and a minimization of the number of Arabs inside the State of Israel."

Concerning Jerusalem, Olmert said Israel would have to retain control over east Jerusalem's Old City, where a key holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews -- known respectively as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound and the Temple Mount -- is located.

Olmert said some Arab neighborhoods close to the downtown area would also stay with Israel, but suggested that outlying Arab neighborhoods could be handed to Palestinian control.

In the area currently under Israel's control, Israel's 1.3 million Arab citizens combined with the 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would soon outnumber Israel's 5.2 million Jews because of their higher birthrate.

Meanwhile, Israel's military expelled eight more alleged Palestinian militants from the West Bank to the fenced-in Gaza Strip on Thursday without charge or trial, Palestinian security sources said.

The first five in a group of 18 West Bank Palestinians scheduled to be deported for alleged "assistance in terror activity" against Israel were sent to the tiny, impoverished desert territory last month.

Such expulsions have been condemned by human-rights groups.

Palestinian security sources said some of the eight were dumped just past the Erez border cros-sing and others on a coastal road near a Jewish settlement after an Israeli military court rejected their appeal against deportation.

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