How do we know if this time, when Vice Premier Haim Ramon presents the cabinet's legislative committee with an evacuation-compensation bill, it's serious? Going through the proposed 2009 budget looking for the part where paying for the evacuation is listed, and when there is no mention of such funding, we turn to the Finance Ministry to see if there is any "extra-budgetary funding" of the kind used in the disengagement. When there is no hint of that either, we know that Ramon has not changed one bit.
The evacuation-compensation initiative was first raised in April 2005 by the One Home movement headed by MKs Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) and Colette Avital (Labor), as well as Benny Raz from the settlement Karnei Shomron. The initiative led to an unusual meeting between people on the left who were interested in evacuating settlements, and settlers who were interested in saving their investment in homes that were losing their value.
In a March 2007 opinion poll held on behalf of One Home, 80 percent of those queried (only Jewish participants) expressed support for the bill. Of the participants in the survey, 58.6 percent believe that there should be no delay in a deal with the Palestinians and that the government must initiate a call for the settlers to move back within the Green Line if they are interested in doing so.
A little less than a year ago, the cabinet's legislative committee discussed a bill put forth by 15 MKs from Labor and Meretz for backing the voluntary evacuation of settlers from settlements in the West Bank. These were settlements on territory meant to be handed over to the Palestinians, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan for a permanent-status agreement.
According to the bill, the state will buy and seal the homes of settlers who agree to be evacuated into Israel. The settlers would be compensated based on the size of their home. Upon the signing of a permanent-status agreement, the state would be able to sell these homes.
Yitzhak Herzog was the only minister who voted in favor of the bill.
Minister Ami Ayalon, who set the evacuation-compensation law as a criteria for joining the cabinet, challenged the cabinet's decision. Olmert promised to raise the initiative as part of a government-sponsored bill. The Americans and Europeans see the bill as a first practical step in the right direction.
After the assault from within Kadima and from Shas ministers, Olmert promised that the legislative committee would only discuss the bill. Nonetheless, Ramon, who heads the ministerial committee on the implementation of the Sasson Report on the outposts, has actually made a contribution: He has offered another sign that the negotiations for a permanent-status agreement are just talk.
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