Settlers who want to leave feel 'betrayed' by Olmert shift

Movement started in August to encourage settlers in the West Bank to voluntarily move inside Green Line.

November 1, 2006 23:59
3 minute read.
anti-disengagement protestors behind fence 88

gaza settlers 88. (photo credit: )

The shelving of the "realignment" plan, which called for withdrawing from many settlements outside the security fence, might have seemed like a cause for celebration among those living over the Green Line. But at least one contingent of settlers watched with anger and dismay as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert shunted the initiative in the wake of the war in the North. Benny Raz was among them. "He's a liar," Raz said of Olmert. "He betrayed us, and he betrayed all the country. He said there would be realignment, and where is it? We voted for this." Raz had backed Olmert because he hoped a Kadima-led government would spur on his own efforts to receive compensation for his home in Karnei Shomron. Anticipating that there would be a second disengagement even as the first one was getting under way last August, Raz, with the help of Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan, started the "One House" movement to encourage settlers in the West Bank to move to Israel proper of their own accord. Now he is hoping that the Knesset will move on Vilan's compensation bill even in the absence of government support for realignment. Vilan said he hoped the bill, currently at the beginning of the legislative process, would gain Kadima backing. He maintained that Olmert would return to the realignment plan sooner or later. "Olmert has to find a political horizon," he said. "It's just a question of time before he goes back to his plan." In early September, with the wounds of the war still fresh and the public largely dissatisfied with the government's handling of the conflict, Olmert took realignment off the table. "What I saw as right several months ago has changed now," Olmert told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "The order of priorities of the government has changed since the war in Lebanon." Realignment calls for a unilateral withdrawal from large swaths of the West Bank and the expansion of several large settlement blocs. Unilateral steps have become increasingly unpopular following the resurgence of violence in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, two regions that Israel withdrew from unilaterally. Yet Olmert also said, "We need to be clear... It is not that this plan was wrong in any way; it is that we need to check our order of preferences when the situation changes." But Raz said the time for action was now, adding that he wanted to harness international attention and the desire to change the status quo in the region. He plans to write to the United Nations and European Union, for starters, to add pressure to Olmert in a bid to jumpstart realignment. Raz estimated that a third of settlers in the West Bank support the One House movement, though many are afraid to say so publicly for fear of blacklisting by neighbors and colleagues. Emily Amrusi, spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, laughed at the number Raz gave. "It's ridiculous," she said. "People live here. If they would prefer to go they would go. Nobody's forcing them to be here." But Raz said that property values are so low, many residents feel trapped. Under Vilan's bill, the government would buy homes from settlers at a rate that would allow them to purchase new residences in Israel's periphery. Amrusi acknowledged that prices were falling in many West Bank communities and that many people would be willing to leave if offered nice homes elsewhere. But she said that would be true for any community outside Israel's center, and that most settlers hadn't moved to the West Bank for economic reasons. "Most of the people came for ideological reasons," she said, adding that many settlers, herself included, felt better after Olmert backtracked on realignment. She described the settlers as living under a question mark, or cloud, for decades. "Half a year ago there was a lot of rain," she said. "Now this cloud isn't raining."

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