A new boost for Gaza pullout
Bribery charges were dropped Tuesday against Prime Minister Sharon, lending him opposition support for withdrawal plan.
Ariel Sharon's chances of fulfilling his promise to withdraw from the Gaza Strip grew Tuesday, after the Israeli prime minister was told he would not be indicted on corruption charges, which had put his plan in limbo.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Now that the plan seems more likely to move ahead, the question of how to extract the thousands of Jewish settlers from the occupied territory remains largely unanswered.
Mr. Sharon says he plans to have all of the approximately 7,500 Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005, and will start offering compensation packages in the coming months to those who leave voluntarily.
But the logistics of the evacuation may be as controversial as the settlements themselves: Sharon plans to move many of them into the West Bank, according to recent Israeli media reports, and will destroy the homes of the Jewish settlers who live in some 20 communities overlooking farmland and the Mediterranean coastline.
Israel has taken this route before - when it withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula after the 1979 Camp David Accords with Egypt - and not without some criticism. Despite objections, Israel demolished Yammit, its Sinai settlement along the Red Sea, before leaving Egypt.
Now, Israeli officials say they plan to demolish most of the 1,000 homes they have built in Gaza since wresting control of it from Egypt in the 1967 war. Utilities, factory space, and key public buildings currently used for schools and synagogues would remain standing.
"The houses will be destroyed. The reasoning behind it is that one of the most urgent issues in the Gaza Strip is to provide housing for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been living in refugee camps," says Ambassador Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Sharon, in a telephone interview from New York.
The key point, he says, is not that Israel wants to prevent Palestinians from moving into the settlers' middle-class homes, but that Gaza's teeming population makes it more pragmatic for the settlements to be replaced with towering apartment buildings.
Moreover, he says, Israel is concerned that only politically powerful Palestinians will wind up in the settlers' homes. "There will be high-rise apartment buildings, perhaps by some international consortium, and Israel would provide the land - land where the settlements are now," he says.
"By turning the houses over to the Palestinian side now, only the ringleaders, who have the political pull, will get priority. It wouldn't be the poor people, the actual homeless people who need housing, but the well-connected - and this is not the purpose of the exercise."
Shoval also acknowledges that there is some influence of what Israeli intelligence assessments fear will be the psychological reverberations of a pullout that leaves behind hundreds of Israeli homes. Israeli military strategists have advised politicians to avoid a "another Lebanon," shorthand for the aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon in April 2000.
Lebanon's Hizbollah, or the Party of God, had led the front against Israel's presence in south Lebanon and took credit for forcing Israel out. Israeli officials worry about the image it will send if triumphant Palestinian flags - or those of the Islamic militant group Hamas - are hoisted up over the settlers' evacuated homes.