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A program to provide permanent homes for families evacuated from the 21 Gaza Strip settlements within two years should be finalized this week, Disengagement Authority head Yonatan Bassi said Tuesday night.
"We have almost finished the program of where each community will be in the end," he told The Jerusalem Post. "Now we have to execute it. Doing so will take two years."
But attorneys for the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, which represents some of the settlers, dismissed his remarks.
Attorney Yitzhak Meron said that while the government might have such a list, that did not mean the solutions were feasible or agreed upon by the evacuees.
"I know of a number of communities that have no such agreement with the government," he said, adding that there were communities that still did not know where they would be living temporarily while they built their permanent homes.
Many of the 1,500 Gaza families forced to leave their homes this summer have been hoping to rebuild their communities and have been in negotiations with the government over where the new homes will be located. Most families are now in temporary homes or hotels awaiting such a program so they can begin to rebuild.
Many settlers have said they do not believe Bassi wants to keep their communities intact. Bassi, however, told the Post he was only interested in communal solutions.
In an interview Tuesday evening with Radio America, Bassi said he had sympathy for the settlers who were "victims of the process."
Bassi said many of them were in denial.
"Two thirds of them, until the day they were evacuated, did not think it could happen," he said. "The denial stopped only on the day of the evacuation."
Bassi said only now could the evacuees start to make decisions as to where they would live next.
"Our responsibility is to be with them and to help them," he said.
Bassi, who became head of the authority in 2004, said the last year had been "the most difficult year in my life."
The real "hero" of disengagement was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because such a plan was very difficult to execute in a democracy, he said.
Defending disengagement, Bassi said it allowed for Israel to continue as a Jewish and democratic state because it helped widen the demographic gap between the Jews and Palestinians. Without it, he said, Palestinians made up 45 percent of the country. "We have no partner, so we took our future in our own hands," he added.
Bassi said he believed disengagement would be one of the more important aspects of Sharon's legacy. He said former prime minister Menachem Begin was initially considered to be part of the extreme right, but after he came to an agreement with Egypt, "he is remembered first of all as the leader of peace."
Bassi said he hoped that within six months most of the settlers would be in temporary homes. Some 450 families are still in hotels awaiting such homes.
"We must reduce a little bit the fire, the heat between the two sides in Israel," Bassi said.