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The talk in political circles is all about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's convergence plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank, but the most serious pending legislation is the bill to improve the compensations package given to the evacuees from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria.
Nine months after disengagement, the Knesset is just starting to get around to closing all the loopholes in the original law that was passed a year and a half ago.
The parliamentary lobby for the evacuees met for the first time Wednesday. Attendance was fair; at least 20 MKs turned up for at least part of the meeting, not just from the National Union-NRP, but also half a dozen members of Kadima - the party of disengagement - and one Labor MK, Rabbi Michael Melchior.
When Kadima MK Shai Hermesh mentioned "the controversy over the evacuation," a settler representative shouted out, "The deportation!" But on the whole, the meeting was surprisingly free of political conflict. Helping the 7,000 people who lost their homes last summer is a bipartisan issue. The joint chairmen of the lobby are Uri Ariel of the National Union and Zeev Elkin of Kadima.
The head of the committee representing the former Gaza settlers, Lior Kalfa, who led the Neveh Dekalim Local Council before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, had mainly warm words for senior government officials like new Prime Minister's Office Director-General Ra'anan Dinur, who are trying to address their problems.
And still, the recurring stories of woe told by the evacuees, of farmers who have no idea if they will ever work the land again and children who are still having difficulty getting back to their studies, manages to surprise when one considers that so much time has elapsed.
Sarita Maoz, the former secretary of Elei Sinai, said, "Nine months is a long time, enough to bring a child into the world. With us though, nothing much has changed. The slogan of the evacuation was 'determination and sensitivity.' Now we're left with one word, 'Bureaucracy.'" Forty-seven families from Elei Sinai are still camped out at the Yad Mordechai Junction.
The main reasons for the delays have been the political turmoil following disengagement and the fact that it was impossible to reach a consensus before the elections. Now, the new Knesset has got down to business.
Yigal Nave, originally from Neveh Dekalim, spoke of going at least once a week to "Jerusalem, Beersheba, Tel Aviv, every time to a different government ministry."
The main aim of the lobby and the settlers is to pass, as soon as possible, a law amending the original compensation package. The Sela Disengagement Agency operates within the parameters of the original law and can do nothing to help hundreds of people who have fallen through the loopholes. For example, evacuees who lived in rented private housing, or those who set up their businesses less than five years before the evacuation, receive only minimal compensation.
Ironically, the reason for many of the loopholes is that the settlers refused to cooperate when the original law was being prepared and many of their problems were not addressed as a result. The right-wing MKs now most active in pressing for new legislation are the same ones who fought the original bill tooth and nail in 2004.
The elephant in the room is the next round of settlement evacuations being planned by the government. No one mentioned it in Wednesday's meeting, but Elkin admitted afterward that it's one of the biggest factors blocking an improved compensations package. "If it was only these 7,000 people, the government would be much more inclined to compromise with them, but we're setting a precedent here. Anything paid to them will have to be paid 10 times over after the convergence, when 70,000 settlers might be moved," he said.
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