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Anyone who wants to see the disengagement plan implemented should welcome the decision, announced last week, to cease government mortgages to future settlers in the Gaza Strip. Clearly, now that the funding is being cut off, only the rich will be able to join the settlement movement; the poor will have to live inside Israel or find private philanthropists. This would seem to be another unsubtle hint that the Sharon government seriously intends to disengage by cutting off the money, as prime minister Yitzhak Rabin did.

It's difficult to understand the underlying financial logic of the decision. If the intention is to tell the settlers that their homes can no longer serve as sufficient collateral for mortgages, then the decision has to be applied to all the Gaza settlers and not only new ones. If the banks are concerned that those who take such mortgages will not be able to repay them, what better collateral could they have than the compensation law, which will undoubtedly contain a clause demanding a defraying of debts before payment, or alternatively the mortgage holders will be able to carry their loans with them to their new home, as is often done inside Israel.

The absurdity becomes even greater when the denial of the mortgages is pitted against the ineffectuality of the decision on an early evacuation of the settlements. According to data supplied by the settler leaders in Gaza, the price of a small house of about 70 square meters in the Gush Katif settlement bloc is $40,000. The potential number of new families is a few dozen. In other words, denying mortgages to cover the full cost of the homes will, at best, generate a saving of between $1.5 million and $2 million. As opposed to this saving, the government is ready to go on wasting money on security for the settlements during the transition period, to underwrite the high cost of busing between the settlements and Israel, and to absorb the costs of those services that are provided by the government.

If the government were to make a decision of principle to pay compensation to the settlers in any case, it could already now save an amount far higher than that entailed in denying mortgages. And by doing so it would be carrying out another vital service as well: a significant "thinning out of forces" among the settlers who already live in the Gaza Strip. In light of this, it becomes even more difficult to understand the political logic guiding the government.

The government's decision, following a complex compromise, stipulates that the disengagement will be carried out in two stages: the stage of preparation and the stage of evacuation. The decision does not yet incorporate evacuation in practice, and as yet there is no legal framework for paying compensation. The decision also asserts that anyone who purchases a home in the areas designated for evacuation after June 2004 will not receive compensation. Therefore, there is no danger that the dozens of additional settlers who come to the Gaza Strip will be a burden on the state treasury when the time comes to pay compensation.

On the other hand, a settler who wishes to leave the Gaza Strip immediately, but has no financial reserves, is stuck in the dunes of Gush Katif. He can't sell his home, because no one will buy it, and he can't get another mortgage or bridging loan until he receives the compensation, because he doesn't have enough collateral for the bank. No bank is today willing to supply a mortgage or a loan in return for the promise of compensation as collateral. And there is no authoritative and responsible person or body in the government who is ready to act as a guarantor for the settlers with the banks, or to promise that the compensation of those who leave now will not be adversely affected. It appears then, that in the light of the prodigious efforts to form a coalition that will support the disengagement plan, the government ministries are making every effort to ensure the disengagement will be traumatic.

The government, then, is saying one thing and doing another. It is ready to grant the mortgage suppliers the authority to navigate policy, but is denying this to the settlers who want to leave, and thus facilitate the disengagement. The government wants to reduce the number of settlers joining the settlements before the start of the disengagement, but at the same time it is putting a freeze on any movement of the Jewish population from Gaza into Israel. One thing is certain: this policy is not broadcasting a message of seriousness of intention.