JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel declared it a "disgrace" yesterday that dozens of unauthorized West Bank settlements still existed four years after Israel promised to dismantle them, following pointed criticism from President Bush.
In a meeting with political allies, Olmert used the harsh word "disgrace" to show his determination to implement his obligations under the "road map," the 2003 plan that serves as the basis for renewed peace negotiations, according to a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.
The road map calls for Israel to halt settlement construction and take down unauthorized outposts built after March 2001 and for the Palestinians to dismantle violent groups.
In violence late yesterday, Israeli aircraft blasted a car in Gaza City, killing two militants, one from a group linked to Hamas and the other linked to Fatah, Palestinians said. The Israeli military said the two militants were involved in rocket fire at Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that negotiating teams would begin tackling the "core issues," including borders, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees, at their meeting today. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev confirmed that teams would begin discussing those issues.
"If we reach an agreement on all these issues, then we can say that we have reached a final agreement," Abbas said in a speech in the West Bank city of Ramallah, adding that a peace treaty must resolve disputes over all the issues.
Israeli settlements are high on the Palestinian agenda. They consider all the settlements, not just the unauthorized outposts, to be illegal encroachment on their land.
In February 2006, just weeks after taking office, Olmert sent police to tear down nine unauthorized homes in the Amona outpost, sparking violent clashes with settlers. In the two years since, he has taken no serious action against outposts.
At a news conference last week in Jerusalem with Olmert, Bush said: "Look, I mean, we've been talking about it for four years. The agreement was, 'Get rid of outposts, illegal outposts,' and they ought to go."
The Settlers Council issued a statement warning Olmert.
"In Amona, Olmert thought it was not right to solve the problem in negotiations and he led to an unnecessary conflict and rift in Israeli society. That way failed and brought severe consequences, and the prime minister should not attempt it again," the statement said.
Settlers started building outposts across the West Bank after Israel reached its initial peace accords with the Palestinians in the early 1990s, in an effort to break up territory the Palestinians want for a state. About 100 were built.