Viewpoint / Let the Public Judge

Let the public judge how much NIS 800 million is worth to it.

Let the public judge whether the State of Israel should be paying NIS 800 million more for the disengagement budget, just to ensure the settlers are satisfied.

Let the public judge if the NIS 800 million allocation to assure that not one single evacuee is left unsheltered is a reasonable decision, or if it's all a matter of PR.

Let the public decide whether the State of Israel should under all circumstances back its citizens, even if the citizens have insisted on behaving irresponsibly, and how much it should pay to do so.

The fact is that the State of Israel went and legislated the Evacuation-Compensation Law a year ago. The state made the decision and the Knesset agreed, though it increased the compensation for settlers by NIS 1.3 billion - that being money to help them start a new life beyond Gush Katif.

The calculation includes rent for two years, until the evacuee buys or builds a new home. It includes NIS 20,000 to move his property from Gush Katif to his new address. There was money allocated to build a new house, according to a very high building standard of $1,000 per square meter. There were highly complex items relating to compensation for businesses closing down, businesses being moved, help in finding new agricultural land, and the like.

Everything you could think of was there, except for one thing - the state transfers to you, residents of Gush Katif, the responsibility. It gives you the tools, financial and operational, to rebuild your lives elsewhere in Israel. You just have to choose the venue.

As expected, that message did not take. The settlers refused to choose. They refused to take responsibility. They preferred to roll it back onto the government: Instead of us taking care of ourselves, in exchange for appropriate compensation, you do it.

In retrospect, they were shrewd. At some stage in April, the government discovered that most of the settlers had not begun to look for alternative housing and employment, and that if this went on, come August 17, Disengagement Day, some 1,700 families will be left standing beside the Gush Katif barrier with nowhere to lay their heads.

At the time, in April, it could have been said it was their problem. The state had given the settlers ample time, money and organizational support to get organized. If they chose not to, for ideological reasons or sheer greed, it was their fault. It could have been seen, as a moral lesson, that citizens must be responsible for themselves; it is not the state's job.

No such thing was said, of course. Nor was it said that a settler who failed to get organized with a new domicile in time, leaving it for the state to handle, would be penalized in any way.

To the contrary: Back then, in April, the state decided to step into the settlers' shoes and find housing for them. It explained that it would rather help the settlers move together, as whole communities, which required the state to build new infrastructure in any case.

The less official explanation was that no politician, certainly not the prime minister, who put all his eggs in the basket of the disengagement plan, would take the risk of homeless settler families appearing on prime-time TV on August 17. With visions like that dancing before his eyes, nobody would be thinking about the whole year the family had had to get organized.

Whether the issue at stake is the public relations of the pullout, which is essentially the public relations of Sharon himself, or successful implementation of lessons learned from evacuating the Sinai community of Yamit (settlements relocated as a whole were much better at rehabilitation) - time was running out for a fact. In April, very little time was left until the pullout in August to start finding alternative residences for 1,700 households. The caravillas built in Nitzan and other alternative solutions were cobbled together in just three months.

Naturally, haste bears a price. The caravillas were built by tender, but the bidders knew full well the state was desperate. To be bald about it, its back was to the wall. The result was that they bid high, very high, adding between NIS 500 million to NIS 800 million to the cost of the disengagement plan. Let the public judge whether it was worth it.