Settlers promise Sharon quiet pullout for 'Gush Nitzanim'
A group of Gaza settlers tell PM advisor they will abide to 'rules of the games' if they can move en masse to Nitzanim.
A deal is being worked out between the Gush Katif settlers who want to move en bloc to Nitzanim and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He will give a green light to the Nitzanim plan in his meeting with the settlers this Sunday and in exchange they will agree to "rules of the game" for the evacuation of Gush Katif.
That is the agreement at the heart of the initiative to move the settlers to "Gush Nitzanim," the nature preserve of sand dunes on the coast between Ashkelon and Ashdod.
A senior source close to the project told Haaretz that the initiative did not come from the prime minister or Avi Drexler, the former Israel Lands Authority director, but from a group of "pragmatic" settlers from Gush Katif, acting as an "alternative leadership," who approached Drexler two months ago and asked him, as an expert on land use, to examine the idea.
The "rules of the game" promised by the settlers means that their evacuation - or at least those who join the deal - would take place without disturbances, or with "minimal friction."
The Prime Minister's Office is now worried whether a critical mass of settlers will join the deal, enabling them to guarantee in the name of all the settlers that the disengagement passes peacefully.
According to the Nitzanim plan, the settlers would be relocated to four settlements - in Nitzan, which would be expanded from 100 to 650 families, and in three new settlements northeast of Ashkelon on 22 square kilometers, with 3,600 dunams for residential construction. According to the plan, a new regional authority would be established - Nitzanim Regional Authority - which would include the four settlements as well as a vacation village planned for the beach north of Ashkelon. Another 30 dunams are to be used for a train station and commercial center. The Ashkelon Municipality wants the four settlements to be included in its jurisdiction.
There are 1,780 houses planned for the new district, for 8,500 inhabitants. That is more housing than all the Jewish housing in Gaza, which raises concerns among the opponents to the plan, including green groups, worried that the real motive behind the plan is a real estate windfall. But government sources say that a maximum of 1,400 new houses will be built in the area.
The viability study that landed on the prime minister's desk does not include any reference to agricultural areas or moving the greenhouses out of Gush Katif. According to a senior planner who took part in the preparation of the plan, there won't be any choice but to put up some 4,000 dunam of greenhouses near the new settlements. The settlers from farming settlements would get 1.2 dunam for each family, with rights to build two houses. Settlers from non-agricultural settlements would get 500 square meters and rights to build one house.
A source close to the project says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon very much wants the evacuation to be voluntary and is ready to "sacrifice a lot" for the sake of that, even though the environmental aspects of the plan are also troubling, which is why there won't be any construction on the Nitzanim dunes.
The Environmental Affairs Ministry has set up a team to monitor the Nitzanim project, putting deputy director general Yitzhak Ben David at the head of the team. Minister Shalom Simhon discussed the plan this week with green organizations and green groups demonstrated Wednesday outside the Justice Ministry when a team headed by the ministry's director general, Aharon Avramovich, held a discussion of the issue with his counterpart from the Environmental Affairs Ministry, Dr. Miki Haran. Last night, PMO officials were still working on the plan, ahead of the return of the prime minister from America.
Meanwhile, members of the Knesset Environmental Affairs Committee toured the Nitzanim area, with reports from green groups on the significance of moving the Gaza settlements into an area with many important landscape values.