Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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26 Adar II 5765 - April 6, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Gaza Residents Propose Mass Move to Nitzanim

By M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 organizations.

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 evacuated settlers.

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 plan.

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 Ashkelon area.

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 environment."

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 Rice.


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