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The financial accounting has started to make the number crunchers' fingers tingle. Prodigal sums that are supposed to be awarded to setters vacated from the Gaza Strip range between 3 billion and 6.5 billion: and whether these are shekel or dollar figures is a moot point.

The equally hypothetical settlement dismantling deadline of September 2005 is part of the charade. So, too, is the negotiation plan: first the settlers are to be asked to leave voluntarily, and then there is to be a forcible evacuation of 7,500 settlers.

All this is virtual reality. No concrete decision has been passed to dismantle a single settlement. Nobody has made a genuine effort to dismantle settlement outposts. Nor has the Knesset been asked to discuss the disengagement plan. All told, the only thing being discussed is "what will happen if...."

For example, what would happen if, instead of Israel's present government, it were France's government of 1961 that was called to evacuate the settlers? Whoever seeks an answer to this hypothetical question might consider Alistair Horne's book "The Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962." This study details compensation arrangements worked out for masses of persons who repatriated in France after the war. Apart from shipping costs, France awarded its settlers who came home a sum of 20,000 new francs as a repatriation payment, and a monthly allotment of 450 francs. Converted to today's figures, this comes to a maximum of NIS 140,000 per family - more conservative estimates significantly reduce this figure.

Another way of computing the sum that settlers `deserve' is to consider the absorption benefit package awarded to new immigrants to Israel. Once benefits and grants awarded during the first six months of an immigrant's life here is added, the sum comes to something between NIS 30,000 and NIS 40,000. A portion of the new immigrants can sell their houses overseas and thereby finance early stages of their lives in Israel; settlers, in contrast, cannot sell their homes. On the other hand, settlers did not pay for land, and land and infrastructure development; and they received major tax benefits.

Perhaps compensation is due for what is called mental anguish? Or perhaps they are owed for the shattering of a dream that the state itself created? Such claims are complex and fraught with consequences, but they do not apply exclusively to settlers. Residents of Mitzpe Ramon and Yeruham were forced to pay the price of fulfilling the dream of settling the Negev; and residents of communities in the north, who were brought to their new homes in trucks in the middle of the night, have also lived that dream, and have plausible claims to compensation for the sacrifices they endured.

In the settlers' case, compensation is thought of as a self-evident obligation of the government - that is, on tax-paying Israeli citizens. This means more than a house-for-a-house compensation: there is to be compensation for ideological and emotional damage, as though the settlers were babies bathed with magic ideological lotions whipped up by Israel's governments, and not the other way around.

Let's assume, anyway, that there's no way around this, that without costly compensation, it will be impossible to carry out the evacuation. If this so, why shouldn't a similar package be offered right now to all settlers on the West Bank (and not just the residents of the four settlements marked out in the disengagement plan)? Under such an offer, any settler willing to leave on his or her accord and return to pre-1967 Israeli territory would be eligible for the compensation package.

Policy makers who have decided that there will be no Jews in Gaza in another year-and-a-half, and who have designated for evacuation at least one area in the West Bank, can continue now to map out realistic final borders on the West Bank. Such a demarcation of final borders would enable each settler to know whether he will be forced to vacate his house in the future, or whether his residence is guaranteed for "eternity." It would then be left to each family unit to decide whether it would continue living temporarily in the territories, or whether it should start a new life in Israel now.