Payments approved for departing settlers

Israeli Cabinet takes first practical steps in Sharon withdrawal plan

September 15, 2004|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM - Israeli Cabinet ministers yesterday approved payment of advances to Jewish settlers willing to leave their homes in the Gaza Strip and in four West Bank settlements, setting in motion the first practical steps in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan.

Sharon's Security Cabinet approved outlines of a compensation package that includes incentives for settlers willing to leave voluntarily and advances for settlers ready to move now, officials said.

Settlers could receive about $200,000 to $350,000 per family, depending on the size of their home, how long they had lived in their settlement and where they agreed to move, according to the outline. The full compensation program must be approved by parliament, with the first of three votes by the legislature set for Nov. 3.

Facing resistance to the pullout from settlers and members of his Likud Party, Sharon is trying to move ahead quickly with his plan, using financial aid to encourage voluntary departure that would reduce the number of settlers who might have to be removed by force.

However, settler spokesmen said that few would take the payments, which they said were meant to push through the withdrawal plan despite substantial public opposition.

The withdrawal plan calls for the removal of all settlers and the troops protecting them from the Gaza Strip, and the evacuation of four isolated settlements in the northern West Bank. The Cabinet approved the plan in principle in June, but any evacuation of settlements requires further Cabinet votes.

About 8,000 settlers live in 21 communities in the Gaza Strip among 1.3 million Palestinians.

About 500 people live in the four West Bank settlements.

Sharon has proposed an accelerated timetable for the withdrawal, scheduled to take place next year. He dismissed a proposal made Monday by Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold a referendum on the pullout, an idea widely seen as an attempt to delay the withdrawal, which has received only lukewarm support from Netanyahu and other Likud ministers.

In another development, the Jerusalem police chief said an investigation was under way into death threats against Sharon and Yonatan Bassi, the director of the government agency overseeing the settlers' evacuation, known as the disengagement administration. He said the threats were made in phone calls to the administration office in Jerusalem.

"We have opened an intensive investigation regarding threats that have been received in recent days," said the police chief, Ilan Franco. "The threats were to murder the prime minister and officials in the administration."

He said security had been tightened at the administration's offices.

Franco said police had confiscated and handed over to justice officials posters condemning Sharon and Bassi that were raised at a settlers demonstration against the withdrawal in Jerusalem on Sunday.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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