In a dramatic change, a broad array of Gaza settler
organizations proposed early this week that they move
voluntarily, together, to the Nitzanim dunes area located
between Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Representatives of individual Gush Katif settlements, as well
as the Gaza Coast Regional Council, met late on Tuesday
afternoon with Prime Minister Sharon to discuss the proposal,
which is already controversial.
A Gaza spokesman said Monday that "if Sharon's plan is put
into practice, the Gush residents must move as a single
entity to the Nitzanim area."
According to government and settler sources, the plan was
secretly prepared by some of Sharon's close associates.
The Environment Minister has already expressed his
opposition, as have Israeli private environmental
The full details of the proposal were not available at the
time of publication. It was reported that four or seven or
ten communities would be established to replace the 21
communities in Gaza, but it was not clear if the agricultural
enterprises of the settlers, such as the hothouse production
of bug-free vegetables, would be moved to Nitzanim or to
someplace else nearby. The new communities would be spread
out over 4,000 dunams (1,000 acres), with enough housing for
any of the 1,700 families in Gush Katif who wish to move
there. The entire Nitzanim area extends over some 20,000
dunam (about 5,000 acres).
The new communities would take about three years to build, so
it is not clear what the families would do until then.
Various proposals have been made for the Nitzanim area in the
past, but currently it is designated as park land that is not
to be developed.
Some 12 settlement officials plan to attend the Tuesday
meeting with Sharon, including three settlement secretaries,
from Gadid, Gan Or and Bedolach. At the meeting they also
intend to ask Sharon to increase compensation for the
The plan would require moving an army base out of the area,
but according to the planners, it would not damage any of
Nitzanim's nature reserves. Environmentalists, however, are
unconvinced so far.
The plan has been officially billed as an independent
initiative by professional planners, but it appears that
various government agencies supported and encouraged it,
including the Prime Minister's Office.
One of the key figures behind the plan was Avi Drexler, a
close associate of Sharon, whom Sharon appointed to head the
Israel Lands Administration in 1998. Drexler said that the
plan was prepared entirely by him and other volunteer
planners in seven intense days.
"If Gush Katif is transferred to Nitzanim, two police
vehicles will suffice to remove all those who refuse to be
evacuated," said one resident after hearing of the new
Some planning officials in the south said they believe the
chances of the plan ever being implemented are slim even if
Sharon does openly support it, given the expected strong
opposition from green organizations and residents of the
An official of the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council also
expressed a concern that the influx could destabilize the
delicate equilibrium between the current secular and
religious residents in the area.
Environment Minister Shalom Simhon said, "It is the last area
of sand dunes in the coastal plain, filled with nature
reserves. Inhabiting it could have a grave effect on the
Israeli officials said Sharon supports the idea of moving
people in groups, and that the government would consider
raising the amounts of compensation. "Money is the least of
our problems," said one official, saying that the government
is far more concerned about violence.
One Gaza official estimated that about 1,000 of the 1,600
families residing in the area back the initiative. "We ask to
stay together in order to maintain the amazing human mosaic
we forged over 30 years," one settler official said.
On Monday, Sharon said that no progress has been made by
Israel in securing a third party to take control of the
property that is to be evacuated under the disengagement
plan. Sharon said several tracks were being explored,
including transferring the homes to the World Bank.
The US State Department on Monday expressed displeasure with
the Ma'aleh Adumim housing project, saying the matter would
be raised in talks between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
advisor Dov Weisglass and US Secretary of State Condoleezza