Cost of new Gaza pullout benefits bill: NIS 3b to 7b
Sixty-two Knesset members have signed on to one of the most expensive bills currently in legislation. The bill, initiated by MKs Avigdor Yitzhaki (Kadima) and Uri Ariel (National Union), is an amendment to the Evacuation-Compensation Law that determined the compensation that Gaza Strip evacuees would receive. The Disengagement Authority (Sela) estimates that the bill will cost a mind-boggling NIS 3-7 billion - making it a macro-economic event that casts a threat on the budget itself.
Because of the huge cost, the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur, is negotiating with Yitzhaki and Ariel in an attempt to curtail the bill. Although estimates are that the cost will indeed be reduced at the end of the day, important parts of it are likely to be retained. As a result, the overall final cost of the 2005 evacuation would increase by a few billion shekels, from the current figure of approximately NIS 9 billion (NIS 2.5 billion in defense costs and NIS 6.5 in civilian costs).
The most expensive article in the bill would allow every evacuee aged 46 and up to take early retirement at the expense of the state, in place of the early-retirement age of 55 provided for by the existing Evacuation-Compensation Law.
Other costly articles in the bill include a provision for every former owner of a business in Gaza to receive the full cost of establishing a new business within Israel, even if the business left behind was unprofitable. The current Evacuation-Compensation Law guaranteed departing settlers either with the monetary value of the business evacuated, in the case of companies that were profitable, or with compensation equal to the value of a business's assets, in the case of an unprofitable operation. The original law also entitled every hothouse owner in Gaza to a new hothouse, but Yitzhaki and Ariel have proposed an increased rate of compensation, the effect of which would be that hothouse owners would receive an amount exceeding the cost of a facility within Israel.
In addition, the bill offers compensation to settlers' children, including older children who no longer reside with their parents; recognition of homes that were constructed illegally, for the purpose of calculating compensation; double compensation for rented apartments, that is, payment to both the owner and the renter - with the latter receiving an amount similar to that received by the apartment owner.
MK Ariel criticized the claim that the bill would cost NIS 3-7 billion, saying that the estimate had been purposefully inflated by the Ministry of Finance in order to shoot the legislation down. He said that the purpose of the bill is to provide the settlers a standard of living identical to that they enjoyed in Gaza, but within the borders of the country. "The issue is what they had before, and the current cost of providing them with the same conditions. It doesn't matter if they receive more benefits than any other citizen of Israel. A person who has been evicted should not receive the same thing as everyone else."