Israel is considering a delay of its planned pullout from the Gaza Strip this summer. But the Cabinet is sharply divided over the issue.
The cabinet ministers held a stormy meeting, but failed to reach a decision on a possible postponement. The pullout is due to begin July 25.
A delay of three weeks was proposed because the original date falls during a Jewish mourning period for the destruction of the biblical Temples. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon supports the delay; analysts say he does not want his Gaza "disengagement" to become associated with a national disaster like the destruction of the Temples.
But some officials say the government is buying time. Cabinet Minister Yisrael Katz, who opposes the withdrawal, says the government is not ready to implement it. "No one has dealt with the problems of housing and unemployment facing the settlers," Mr. Katz told reporters. He said one-third of the settlers are employed in agriculture, but they have not been compensated for their businesses or given alternative farmland inside Israel.
But opponents of the delay, such as Cabinet Minister Ophir Paz of the dovish Labor Party, say it would cast doubt on the government's resolve to implement the pullout. "Postponing the withdrawal would broadcast weakness," said Mr. Paz. He said a delay would give opponents of the pullout more time to organize resistance.
The settlers are not enthusiastic about the delay either because it does not meet their fundamental demand-that the pullout be called off. And they vented their anger when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz paid a visit to Jewish communities in Gaza. "Go home," they shouted, "go home. You are a shame and a reproach." One resident said the defense minister's job is to protect Jews, not to throw them out.