Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Israeli parliament OKs withdrawal


A Palestinian man crosses the Kalandia checkpoint at the entrance of the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday. Dozens of police reinforcements have been deployed around Jerusalem's disputed mosque compound for fear of an attack by Jewish extremists trying to sabotage the Gaza pullout plan, Israeli public radio said.


The Israeli parliament easily passed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's contentious plan to pull out of Gaza and part of the West Bank, approving compensation of hundreds of thousands of dollars to families of settlers to be evacuated.

The 59-40 vote on Wednesday was the final parliamentary endorsement, but the pullout, marking the first time Israel would remove veteran settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, still has many obstacles to overcome -- strident, even violent opposition by settlers and their backers, as well as attempts by opponents to scuttle the plan by bringing down Sharon's government.

As the parliament voted its approval, settlers and their backers were blocking main highway intersections with burning tires and scuffling with police for the second time this week. Police arrested 13.

The vote reflected a realignment in which dovish parties came out in favor of Sharon's plan, while many of his traditional pro-settlement supporters voted against. Vice Premier Shimon Peres of the dovish Labor Party called the vote "a clear decision for peace," but the Settlers' Council said it marked "a black day for democracy."

As the Israeli government shored up support for the withdrawal, Palestinian officials approved a new Cabinet expected to put allies of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in control of security forces and other key departments, officials said.

The Cabinet, whose makeup was not announced, is to be presented to the Palestinian parliament next week for approval, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said.

Abbas, who was elected last month, has agreed to a cease-fire with Israel and promised to work to prevent attacks by militants. In response, Sharon says he will coordinate the pullout, originally planned as a unilateral withdrawal.

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two mortar rounds at the Jewish settlement of Morag on Wednesday, causing no damage or injuries but threatening the fragile truce. There was no immediate Israeli retaliation.

Sharon says his "disengagement" plan will solidify Israel's grip on large West Bank settlement blocs, but settlers fear it will set a precedent for the removal of other settlements.

The bill approved Wednesday allocated US$871 million for the estimated 9,000 settlers who will be displaced when Israel pulls down all 21 settlements in Gaza and four others in the northern West Bank.

Under the plan, a couple with two children who have rented a home in a settlement for the past 15 years would receive just over 1 million shekels (US$230,000). A similar family that owned a home would get about 30 percent more.

The amount is to be calculated on the basis of family size, property and length of residence in a settlement.

Families who own farmland or businesses or who agree to move to development zones in the Negev desert or the Galilee would receive extra money.

The vote took hours as legislators voted on nearly 200 proposed amendments, soundly defeating one requiring a national referendum on the plan. Sharon has rejected a national vote as a delaying tactic that could put the withdrawal off for at least a year.

"The opposition to the disengagement plan hasn't been defeated yet," said hawkish lawmaker Effie Eitam, who quit Sharon's Cabinet over his opposition to the pullout.

The main obstacle still to be overcome involves survival of Sharon's coalition government, already reshuffled once because of the plan.

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