Sharon Closes Gaza Settlement, Starts One in West Bank
Sharon forges ahead with Gaza pullout plan despite opposition (Turkish Press-AFP)
The Israeli government was forging ahead with its planned pullout from the Gaza Strip despite virulent opposition, as MPs were to debate a bill to compensate settlers and plans for a new town in the Negev desert were unveiled. Commentators predicted a clear victory for the government in the second reading debate on the evacuation-compensation bill which should pave the way for settlers to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to help them build new lives after they are uprooted from Gaza.
A vote on the bill is not expected until Wednesday with around 100 deputies of the 120-seat Knesset likely to speak at the debate. Some ultra-nationalist opponents of the pullout have said that they intend to read the names of each Gaza settler during their speeches and add the title “Jew, designated for expulsion” to each one.
The overall principle of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, which will also uproot around 300 residents of four settlements in the northern West Bank, has already received parliamentary approval. However opponents are hoping to hijack the bill at every parliamentary stage. Not even the government is united with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom among cabinet members pushing for a referendum on the issue.
This is a bold move by Sharon, in the classic “only Nixon can go to China” spirit. However, it is coupled by a parallel move seemingly in the opposite direction:
Israel Plans New West Bank Settlement (Reuters)
Israel plans to build a new Jewish settlement in the West Bank that could house settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip after a withdrawal this summer, Israeli officials said Tuesday. The move was certain to amplify concerns among Palestinians that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to quit Gaza is a ruse to cement an Israeli hold on much of the West Bank. Palestinians want a state in both occupied territories.
Israel’s Housing Ministry said it planned to build a new settlement, Gvaot, in the main West Bank enclave of Gush Etzion. Under a U.S.-led “road map” to peace with the Palestinians, Israel is required to halt expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war. But President Bush said last year that Israel could expect to keep some West Bank land under any eventual peace accord. Housing Minister Isaac Herzog said that some 8,000 Gaza settlers slated for evacuation would be offered new housing in outlying areas of Israel but could opt for the West Bank instead. “There is no doubt that in carrying out the disengagement plan … there is a need to expand towns in the Negev desert and the Galilee, and on that we are placing our priority,” Herzog told Israel Radio. “This will not prevent a person who has received his compensation to go and buy an apartment where he wants, and if he wants to buy one in Gush Etzion he would be totally within his rights,” he said.
This is a very odd move on Sharon’s part. It makes little sense to make the bold gesture of unilaterally giving up settlements in the occupied territories while at the same time creating a new wound. It remains to be seen whether Abbas can and will curtail Hamas and other terrorist elements. It would help, though, if Sharon would refrain from provocative moves in the meantime.