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Exclusive: Yesha backs bid to win land in Israel for evacuees (JERUSALEM POST) By MATTHEW GUTMAN 02/03/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1107314591955 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha Council), the nerve center of Israel´s largest anti- disengagement juggernaut, is quietly supporting a legal forum that is lobbying the government for land inside Israel to relocate several Gush Katif settlements, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The council´s stance is eliciting cries of hypocrisy from groups both to the left and the right of the council. It is even sparking speculation that the settlement´s governing body has secretly forsaken the Gaza Strip, and that settler leaders are instead focusing on preventing a larger Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in the future. But settler leaders said they were seeking "insurance" should the campaign against disengagement fail.

Zvi Hendel, the only Knesset member living in Gush Katif and a key opponent of disengagement, appointed the forum to investigate the feasibility of moving several settlements, including his own community, Ganei Tal, to land inside Israel. He kept the forum secret until the Post questioned him about it on Tuesday.

"I am for Gush Katif," Hendel told the Post. "But if we lose this struggle, we need to do something to ensure that we stay a community."

While the legal forum is hunting for ways to secure the Nitzanim coast as a new beachhead for the Gaza settlements, over the past several months many individual Gush Katif residents were practically branded traitors for expressing their willingness to move.

"We continue to fight for Gush Katif," said Avner Shimoni, head of the Hof Aza Regional Council, justifying the umbrella council´s stance, "but who says the government should be allowed to cripple us and then rob us too?"

Still, Shimoni admitted that the council´s support of relocating to the Nitzanim beach area as many settlers as are willing to move there "presents us with an inherent problem."

But Shimoni said he must also "look to the day after the evacuation, though I pray it won´t happen."

He and the spokeswoman for the settlers´ council, Emily Amrusi, agreed that Gush Katif residents "need an insurance policy" for the post-evacuation period.

Currently, said Shimoni, the government´s compensation package was "pitiful," and efforts to move the communities in full were aimed at preventing "psychological damage" in the future. Research conducted on the evacuees of the Sinai settlement of Yamit showed that those who left in groups fared much better than those who started anew independently.

Right-wing activists from National Jewish Front Party head Baruch Marzel to Kahane Chai activist Itamar Ben-Gvir slammed those involved with the plan and called for their resignation. Marzel specifically called upon Hendel on Wednesday to resign from the Knesset after his involvement with the legal forum surfaced.

In a campaign such as the one against disengagement, said an incredulous Ben-Gvir, "the most vital thing is our belief in the path and our victory, and if these people do not believe in those things then they should quit and go home."

The "Nitzanim Plan" calls for as many settlers as are willing to move into an area about 20,000 dunams in size along the beach, located between Ashdod and Ashkelon. Several communities would arise along that beach, which would include farms and greenhouses, according to Yitzhak Meron, who heads the Evacuation-Compensation Bill Knesset Action Team for the Legal Forum. He and Shimoni both noted that Nitzanim is closest to Gush Katif in terrain and location.

Standing in the way of the settlers are no longer politicians, but merely "turtle eggs, a few dunes and a little IDF base," according to Meron, who is among 100 lawyers working for the forum – all on a pro- bono basis.

The Disengagement Authority and the government have balked at handing Nitzanim over to the settlers because it is home to a nature preserve, a key birthing spot for sea turtles and an IDF base.

"This is ridiculous," said Meron. "They are willing to evacuate 8,000 settlers, but can´t make arrangements for them in the one place they want to build their new homes." Meron was confident that the government will find space for the settlers in Nitzanim.

Yet for the settlers´ council, and specifically for Hendel, there was a silver lining. Reached at his home in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv, Yahad MK Yossi Sarid issued rare praise for Hendel for what he called a realistic and practical approach.

"It´s his right and obligation to fight against the plan, but I am glad that he knows he has to then accept decisions when they are made," Sarid said. "My office in the Knesset is next to his and I told him that if he is left homeless by the disengagement, he and his family can live with us. I guess my offer scared him enough to seek other accommodations." Gil Hoffman contributed to this report. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 02/03/05)

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