September 9, 2004
Groundwork Laid to Evacuate Gaza
Despite political hurdles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, giving various government agencies the green light to prepare for the evacuation of settlers -- using both carrots and sticks.
Even as Israeli police begin laying the groundwork for evacuating Gaza, an interministerial team of some 70 officials is working out details of a bill to compensate evacuees in hopes that the prospect of money and alternate housing will help avert a violent confrontation between settlers and police.
Despite police objections -- "no budget, no manpower" -- the Cabinet decided that Israeli police would perform the actual evacuation.
Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently resigned as minister of internal security, wanted the army to do the job, as it did in the evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai 22 years ago. But most ministers preferred to spare young soldiers the experience of a potentially violent confrontation with Jewish citizens.
So police have begun making necessary preparations. Step one: allocating the funds.
Not only will the government need to pay generous compensation to evacuated settlers -- about $400 million -- the actual process of evacuation will require substantial funds. Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi met Sept. 5 with senior officers to assess the costs involved.
The cost of the evacuation will depend on the scope of resistance, both in Gaza and in Israel proper. No one knows for sure how many people will actively resist the evacuation, or over what period of time. Therefore it's not only a matter of budget but of recruiting the necessary manpower.
It's assumed that large police forces will be kept busy not only in the Gaza Strip but also within Israel, dealing with demonstrations against the disengagement.
Police were planning to set up an "evacuation administration" comprising two arms, one responsible for planning the evacuation and the other for carrying it out. The Border Police, which usually is deployed in the territories to deal with the Palestinian population, has been selected to evacuate the settlers.
The Border Police plans to reinforce its 12 companies with an additional 20 reserve companies, which will free up regular forces to cope with the evacuation.
Sharon hopes to create sufficient motivation among settlers to evacuate their homes willingly in exchange for generous compensation packages, avoiding violent confrontations like those in Yamit.
An interministerial team is working out details of the compensation bill. The general idea is to offer settlers a house in exchange for a house; they also will be given the option of relocating en masse to communities in Israel.
Government assessors were instructed to appraise the houses according to equivalents in regions that are better off than development towns, but not as upscale as Tel Aviv.
The evacuation administration already has proposed advance payments that would be deducted from final compensations, but advances can't be handed out until the complicated legal procedure behind them is finalized.
The government will commit itself to paying out the full value of compensation packages even if the disengagement plan eventually collapses. Settlers also will receive special compensation worth six months' salary to find alternative employment.
Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif settlement bloc, insisted in an interview with JTA that only a handful of families have expressed interest in entering negotiations on compensation.
"We regard this entire talk on compensations as psychological warfare," Sternberg said. "Sharon in his desperation shoots in all directions."
The overarching imperative in preparing for the evacuation is to avoid civil war. Policemen in the evacuation task force will undergo special psychological seminars, preparing them for confrontation with their "brothers."
When will all this take place? Sharon recently told his Likud Party's Knesset faction that he did not intend to "drag out the disengagement plan over a long period of time."
He has presented the following timetable for the disengagement:\n
• By Sept. 14, the prime minister will present the Cabinet a blueprint for evacuation and compensation of the settlers.\n
• By Sept. 26, a draft disengagement bill will be presented to the Cabinet.\n
• By Oct. 24, the financial compensation bill will be brought to the Cabinet.\n
• On Nov. 3, the compensation bill -- "The Law for Implementing the Disengagement Plan" -- will be brought to the Knesset.
It's assumed that the actual evacuation would take place no later than February 2005.
After Likud voters rejected Sharon's disengagement plan in a May 2 party referendum, and following the impressive human chain protest of some 130,000 people in late July, settlers now are planning additional anti-disengagement campaigns, including an upcoming massive protest in downtown Jerusalem.
"Over 3,000 children and youths began the school year this week at our schools," Sternberg said. "I'm sure we will all be there to open the next school year."