A good deed in Gush Katif

Gush Katif shines as a good deed in a troubled world.

In this village in southern Gaza, some 200 Jewish settlers operated ultramodern greenhouses with crops cultivated automatically by computer.

Those greenhouses produced herbs, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and flowers for home and foreign consumption, valued at $75 million a year. The greenhouses employed 4,000 Palestinians, making Gush Katif a major employer in Gaza. As evacuation time approached, some of the settlers began planning their departures, intending to take with them the most valuable equipment and destroying the rest. That would have made Gaza's unemployment rolls swell.

What happened next I learned from one of those involved in the rescue operation. The Bush administration offered US Agency for International Development (AID) funds to protect those greenhouses. Because that AID money was earmarked for the Palestinian Authority anyway, the Authority rejected the proposal because it would take their allotted assistance to compensate the Israeli farmers for the equipment.

Then, the Economic Cooperation Foundation, funded by the European Union, offered to buy the greenhouses for $14 million, to be reimbursed by private donations.

James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank and now special envoy for the Palestinian-Israeli disengagement, donated a half-million dollars from his own pocket and put the bite on some friends of his who have not been publicly named.

The departing Jewish farmers also got $4,000 each from the Israeli government for the installations they left behind.

As the Gaza evacuation got under way, a formal agreement was signed, turning the greenhouses over to the Palestinian Authority with the understanding that current employees would get the first choice of jobs.

What made the Gush Katif deal work, where others have failed, is that this was handled as an economic rather than an ideological problem.

A rare case of do-gooders actually doing some good.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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