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Gaza regional council to be dismantled (JERUSALEM POST) By MATTHEW GUTMAN 01/28/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106848123506 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Government officials have quietly drawn up a plan to dissolve the Gush Katif settlement bloc governing body before Israel´s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this summer, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The Hof Aza Regional Council, the Gaza settlements´ local government, is a popularly elected council of 20 members, with an elected council head, Avner Shimoni.

Should the plan be implemented it would be the first time that the government has dissolved a local council for political reasons.

"Shimoni was told that if the protests continue, the Interior Ministry would be asked to appoint an alternative council," said a government source.

The plan calls for the Interior Ministry, at the behest of the Disengagement Authority and the Prime Minister´s Office, to draw up an annex to the Local Authorities Law or a temporary order arguing that the current council is unfit to govern. It would then unseat the council and appoint an alternative.

This would also ensure that the regional council´s finances rest in the hands of government-appointed officials. Precedent for the measure exists, but only in the case of regional council´s financial insolvency.

Although a popularly elected body, Hof Aza is also answerable to the government, specifically to the Interior Ministry. Obstructing official government policy or officials´ involvement in illegal and sometimes violent demonstrations "could justify a change at the top, although I would warn against it," said the government source.

But the plan remains "almost top secret, and is being talked about only among the most senior officials," said the government source.

Arik Yitzhaki, a leading far-right activist in Gush Katif, noted that the plan is "being used to threaten Shimoni to toe the line and to try to stanch protests, especially those involving his own council members."

Several Hof Aza council members were involved in the fistfights outside the Tufa crossing near Neveh Dekalim on Wednesday, where several people were injured. Police forces, who the settlers accused of acting with "brutality," arrested four locals.

Legally the Interior Ministry has the jurisdiction to dissolve a council and appoint a new one if the body is proven to be incapable of leading the community to financial solvency. The plan was formulated several months ago under the tenure of former interior minister Avraham Poraz, according to the sources.

Spokesman for Interior Minister Ofir Pines-Paz, Gilad Haymann, denied that any such plan was afoot. "The idea is not at all practical," he said.

Disengagement Authority sources have long accused the Hof Aza Regional Council of intentionally thwarting its work. "It is no secret that they take each opportunity they can to hinder our work," an authority source said Thursday evening.

While Hof Aza spokesman Eran Sternberg said, "I´ve never heard of such a thing," one of the local council members, Yossi Noiman, had.

"We´ve heard rumors of such a movement afoot for about two months, but [Shimoni] denied it wholeheartedly."

Noiman and others have, however, noted an increased interest recently in the Hof Aza Regional Council´s financial affairs. About 10 days ago the Interior Ministry tried to appoint a bookkeeper to the council, but Shimoni´s people rejected it and took their case to the High Court of Justice, where it was overturned.

Shimoni said that the dissolution of the community had been mentioned in the disengagement plan, but the plan will not become law until the budget vote next month.

Hof Aza´s books have been the subject of increased scrutiny due to allegations that it siphoned off public funds for anti-disengagement protests and to finance illegal settlers in Gaza Strip settlements. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/28/05)

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