They Can't Get No Satisfaction

The evacuees from Gush Katif have managed to make monkeys of us yet again.

The evacuees from Gush Katif have managed to make monkeys of us yet again. This afternoon the interim report of the state inquiry into the government's handling of the evacuees will be released. The report will argue that the government failed in its duty, procrastinated, didn't provide fair compensation and, therefore, the evacuees should really be given a few hundreds of millions of shekels more lest they be deprived, heaven forfend.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The evacuation from Gush Katif was handled humanely, considerately, kindly, and generously. The government enacted a special law, established a special administration for the evacuees and inundated them with gigantic budgets and general largesse.

But they wanted more. Right at the onset, the evacuees realized the government they faced was a feeble, cowardly thing, unable to stand firm in the face of pressure. So they demanded triple compensation: a generous financial payment, prime land and the establishment of the administration to cater to their every need.

And it did. It became their nanny. It rented apartments for them, built them costly caravans ($110,000 each), changed national master plans for them, evacuated Kibbutz Shomria in the Negev for them, erected entirely gratuitous settlements for them in Hevel Lachish and provided them with access to one of the choicest tracts of land in the Land of Israel - Nitzanim, by the coast between Ashdod and Ashkelon.

That area had been earmarked for high-rise construction to house 5,000 families. Instead it will become a town of fancy houses for a few hundred "evacuee" families. Each plot of land in Nitzanim is one dunam in area, on which three houses can be built, with total built-up area of 750 square meters. That is an asset worth millions.

The evacuees did not cavil at dotting their i's and crossing their t's, either. They demanded special budgets for air conditioners, a 90 percent subsidy for day care, pension entitlement from age 55 and compensation even for people who had lived in the Gush briefly, on a rental basis.

They got it all. Ariel Sharon was very generous to them. He tried to buy them with money, but they never achieved satisfaction. The more he gave, the more they demanded.

At first the evacuation budget was NIS 5.5 billion, of which NIS 3.5 billion was for evacuees and NIS 2 billion for redeployment of the armed forces. But the evacuees retained a battalion of lawyers who throughout four years kept the demands coming, which constantly increased the compensation total. Just a year and a half ago the government agreed to give them NIS 650 million more, bringing the evacuation budget to a staggering NIS 10 billion. Of that the settlers are getting NIS 7.4 billion and the army, NIS 2.6 billion.

We are talking of 1,751 households, of which 400 are not entitled to housing solutions. The compensation they are getting is far beyond anything given to the evacuees of Yamit and Sharm el-Sheikh. Yet they continue to bewail their deprivation, even before the state inquiry established by right-wing members of Knesset who controlled the State Control Committee of the Knesset.

What they wanted of the committee was to approve compensation for businessmen at the Erez crossing point, who had been paying Palestinian workers under the table, never registering them as workers or paying tax on their behalf as the law demands. They demanded that people who had never ploughed their land be considered active farmers and receive accordingly inflated compensation. Israbluff brimming with chutzpah.

Where are more budgets to come from? From the education budget? From the disabled? The unemployed? Maybe by raising taxes some more?

The settlers don't care. Nor do the committee members.

If you'd hoped that the state inquiry would be the end of the story, you hoped in vain. The Netanyahu government set up a special ministerial committee headed by Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) to help the evacuees from Gush Katif. The Yesha Council doesn't mean to hit the brakes, and there are also members of Knesset from the right who vow to enact another law that would increase compensation even more.

They won't let the topic fall off the agenda. The settlers and enemies of peace won't let this wound heal - ever. They will use the Gush Katif evacuees as leverage, to turn the evacuation into a trauma so vast and so expensive that no prime minister would ever dare to risk a similar evacuation of the West Bank. And in the absence of evacuation, there will be no retreat and no peace. Which is exactly their highest goal.