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Jewish Settlers Seek Payout to Leave Gaza, West Bank - 2004-06-14


Israeli officials say they have received requests from dozens of Jewish settlers about possible compensation for agreeing to leave Gaza and the West Bank. Last week, the Israeli government approved a plan to evacuate settlers from parts of the territories by the end of next year.

Israeli officials say some Jewish settlers are ready to break ranks with their leadership and voluntarily leave Gaza and the West Bank in return for financial compensation.

A spokesman for the Yesha Council, which represents the settler movement, confirmed that he knew some Jewish residents in the territories were investigating the possibility of a payout.

At the same time, a spokesman for the settlers in Gaza said most of the estimated 7,500 Israelis living there had signed a declaration refusing to leave or to negotiate compensation.

The issue comes to the fore after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won the backing of his cabinet this month for his plan to withdraw troops and settlements from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank by the end of next year.

Israeli officials say residents who agree to leave voluntarily would receive an average of $300,000, enough to pay for a family home or a large apartment in many parts of the country.

Lawyers for the settlers seeking compensation have been encouraged to start negotiations with Israel's Justice Ministry.

Meanwhile, the issue of evacuating settlements continues to divide Israeli politics.

The coalition has been reduced to 59 seats in the 120-member parliament, after two cabinet ministers quit in protest against the government's decision.

But Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, who heads the secular Shinui faction, says there are good prospects for the government to survive by forming a new coalition with parties in the opposition. He says he believes the negotiations would begin soon on the assumption that the attorney-general decides not to prosecute Mr. Sharon over a series of criminal allegations.

"I assume that if [Attorney General Menachem] Mannie Mazuz decides that if the prime minister should not stand trial that we will find a way to make the Labor party join the government," he said.

Meanwhile, most members of the Labor Party are expected to provide a safety net for Mr. Sharon's coalition.

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