Settlement outposts “ought to go,” President Bush said in a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
“In terms of outposts, yeah, they ought to go,” Bush said on the start of his first visit to Israel in his seven years as U.S. president. He was responding to a reporter’s question about West Bank settlements established without Israeli government authorization. “Look, we’ve been talking about it for four years.”
Olmert appeared taken aback by Bush’s bluntness, which came moments after Olmert said “the president didn’t ask for me to make any commitments other than the ones that Israel made already regarding the peace process.”
Olmert has modified Israel’s view on the role of settlement expansion in the Bush-initiated “road map” peace process. His predecessor, Ariel Sharon, argued with the Americans that Israel’s actions on settlements would come after Palestinians demonstrated an ability to prevent terrorism. Olmert has said Israel’s obligation to stop settlement expansion is not contingent on Palestinian measures.
U.S. officials had hoped that Olmert would have taken some measures to dismantle outposts before the Bush visit. Olmert quickly reassured Bush that he will address the outposts.
“We have no interest in delaying matters,” he said.
Olmert also said that Israel would continue to build in east Jerusalem and in the larger settlements near Jerusalem, which he said do not come under the purview of the road map.