Disengagement Authority to be axed in 2010

After bearing the brunt of Gaza evacuees' anger for more than five years, the Sela Disengagement Authority will likely be disbanded by the government as of January 1, 2010. By that time many of the 1,133 evacuee families who hope to build houses in 24 new communities will have finished or at least begun the work on their new homes, predicts Disengagement Authority Director Tzvia Shimon. So the need for the a single authority to dispense compensation funds and work out resettlement issues will have been mostly finished, she said. If the authority were to remain in place much longer, she said, the evacuees might become "dependent" upon it. "As long as it exists, they [the evacuees] won't take their fate into their own hands," Shimon said. Others in the Disengagement Authority said the prospect of its dissolution could accelerate the resettlement process. Government sources said the evacuees would not be abandoned in January 2010, but rather that the work done by the authority would move to appropriate offices including the ministries of Justice, Construction and Housing, Social Welfare, Health, and Industry, Trade and Labor. The demise of the Disengagement Authority, which began operation in June 2004, was first announced by Prime Minister's Office director-general Ra'anan Dinur two months ago; legislation to close it is included in the 2009 state budget now under debate by the cabinet. Even without a cabinet vote, Shimon said, the number of workers in her office has been scaled back from 114 two years ago to 87 today. She predicted that by the end of this year there would be only 52 employees in the authority, and cited that as evidence that the work load had gone down. Some evacuees who have noted with concern the slow progress in the re-creation of their old communities said they were worried that closure of the authority would only make matters worse and increase the mountains of red tape they face. "You don't know who you will be talking with," said Anita Tucker, formerly of Netzer Hazani in Gush Katif, who is still waiting for a hearing before an appeals compensation committee both for her business and her home. "It's not that [resettlement issues] are being dealt with very well, but at least you know who you are talking with," Tucker said. But Aharon Hazut, formerly of Gan Or, said closure would be welcome. Having one authority handle all matters relating to disengagement sounded good in theory but failed in practice because it was never effective. One evacuee who didn't want to be named said the authority possessed lots of goodwill but little power to act, and he wondered if the evacuee issues wouldn't be better advanced by the various government ministers. Among the top concerns the evacuees have regarding the dissolution of the Disengagement Authority is the fate of the 24 new communities; work has begun in only seven and red tape and other disputes has bogged down the start of work in 10 others. In addition, seven of the communities have yet to sign agreements with the government on their creation. They have until the end of December 2009 to do so and it is assumed that this will be sufficient time. Should such agreements not be reached by then, the negotiations will be moved to an appropriate government office. The government counts 1,359 families who are eligible for housing in the 24 communities. However, 226 of those families chose independent housing options. Of the remaining 1,133 families, only about 130 have begun building and only 45 to 50 have finished their homes, according to Shimon. According to the authority an additional 300 can now build, and work on their homes should begin soon. For now, most of the families remain in modular homes at temporary living sites.