The initiative to pay compensation to settlers who live east of the separation fence and want to move to the western "Israeli" side seems both wise and just. Wise, because the "voluntary evacuation-compensation" law would signal to the world that Israel is folding up the West Bank settlement enterprise. Domestically, it would give a message of a soft evacuation, without the orange ribbons, bulldozers and tears of the Gaza disengagement. Just, because the fence has decreed an end to the settlements that remain beyond it, and the government should grant their residents the same conditions given to the Gush Katif evacuees and should not wait for the last moment.
MK Avshalom Vilan of Meretz-Yachad, head of the Bayit Echad (One Home) movement who initiated the evacuation-compensation law and signed it with Labor MK Colette Avital, believes that its target audience is the 40,000 settlers who came to the West Bank for the economic temptation of cheap land and homes. They were once called "quality-of-life settlers" to distinguish them from "ideological settlers" who settled in the territories for religious and political reasons. According to Vilan's surveys, 60 percent of them are willing to leave their homes for compensation and seek quality of life elsewhere, while another 20 percent will go if they get a good price.
The fact Defense Minister Ehud Barak is for the initiative has created a political fact and placed "voluntary evacuation-compensation" higher on the public agenda. As when he declared the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon before the 1999 elections, Barak has surprised us by adopting his political rivals' ideas.
His motivation is clear: The polls have showed him that he must get closer to the Labor electorate once again, and the offer to compensate the settlers is seen as a "left-wing" initiative, but one that does not undermine Barak's security-oriented approach. If the plan is carried out, it is likely to spare Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the oppressive confrontation that accompanies evacuating outposts. If Israel absorbs tens of thousands of settlers inside the Green Line, nobody in the world will pressure it because of a few remote trailer homes.
The right, as its confused reaction to the idea demonstrates, will find it hard to agitate hearts to protest against compensation to the settlers. Nobody will block roads and threaten violence because of money that will go into Jewish pockets. Even the ideological settlers will want to benefit from the government check when it is time to be evacuated, just as in Gush Katif. They are not suckers and they will not waive compensation in advance.
But despite the great advantages of "voluntary evacuation-compensation" as a political slogan, implementing the idea involves two serious problems. The first relates to applying the law: Its initiators propose that anyone who lives "on the other side of the fence" is entitled to compensation. The residents of the "major settlement blocs" inside the fence (Gush Etzion, Ma'aleh Adumim, the Jerusalem envelope, and maybe even Ariel) will get nothing.
But what will be the fate of the Jordan Valley, which is far from the fence? According to Vilan, its residents are even more eager to leave than their friends in the hilly regions, but compensating the settlers in Argaman, Hamra and Fatzael will be seen as giving up Israeli control in the Jordan Valley at the beginning of the negotiations with the Palestinians. It is hard to imagine Olmert, or any other prime minister, agreeing to such a step, which is liable to break up his coalition.
The second problem is practical: What should be done with the homes of the settlers who leave? If the houses remain, they will be repopulated by ideological settlers, who will make a joke of the evacuation and make the government look like a dishrag. The government will be forced to destroy the homes, or seal them, as Vilan and Avital suggest. But the moment the government tries to possess these assets, it will encounter demonstrators, orange ribbons and tears, and will have to use force. The bulldozers that destroyed the settlements in Gush Katif, and the police horses that accompanied the demolition of the buildings at the Amona outpost, will be used to enforce the voluntary "soft" evacuation.
The conclusion is that there are no happy evacuations. Anyone who wants to cause the settlement enterprise to crumble gradually, and to separate the "hard core" from those seeking cheap housing in the territories, cannot make do with paying compensation. He will have to use force, or nothing will change on the ground. And that is apparently one reason why Olmert is not enthusiastic about the idea.
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