Knesset passes law to cut through red tape in resettlement of Gush Katif evacuees

In an effort to guarantee that 1,400 Gaza evacuee families are resettled in permanent homes within five years, the Knesset approved a law on Tuesday evening to cut through the red tape that has delayed the process. The legislation shortens - by six months to a year - the bureaucratic processes involved in expanding construction areas for Gaza evacuees in existing communities. It also fast-tracks the creation of new ones. This week marked the first time since the Disengagement Implementation Bill was passed in 2005 that the Knesset has passed a law to help the Gaza evacuees, said MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud). He was one of 32 parliamentarians who voted for the housing bill, as it passed its second and third readings unopposed. Although the initial timetable for resettlement was two years, 31 months after disengagement most of the evacuees still live in temporary structures. Delays in getting permits, and zoning and contractual issues have held up approval for construction on the land where the evacuees plan to recreate their communities. Only 60 to 70 of the 1,400 families who have chosen a communal option have begun building, said evacuees' spokesman Dror Vanunu. According to a source in the Disengagement Authority, areas have been approved for construction in Mavki'im, Bat Hadar, Magen Shaul, Yad Binyamin, Yad Hanna, Nitzan, Shomriya, a section of Ashkelon called Golf, and Bustan Hagalil. These sites will house around 700 families. The largest project is in Nitzan, where 210 families have registered. But Vanunu said more delays came even after the final approvals; he estimated that by the end of the year only 40 percent of the families would actually have begun building. The evacuees are waiting for "final permission" to build in Nitzanim, Ariel, Avnei Eitan, Talmei Yafe, Halutzit 1 and 4, Hafetz Haim, Yesodot, Ein Tzurim, Palmahim, Amatzia Hazan, and Mersham. The largest of these projects, Nitzanim - slated to house more than 300 families - has been held up by a boundary dispute with the city of Ashkelon. Much of the delay, the Disengagement Authority source said, has been due to contractual problems rather then zoning and permitting issues. Still, the source said, the new law would speed up the process. It sets strict timetables for each benchmark in the process, with deadlines ranging from two months to five years. It requires the government to present - within half a year of the date the law goes into force - agreements for settling some of the Gaza evacuees in new communities. The government, according to the law, must complete the infrastructure in the communities within a year of the final decisions to establish them. The legislation also mandates shortening the time frames of the various planning boards. It was sponsored by 62 MKs representing Kadima, Labor, Likud, Shas, Israel Beiteinu, the Gil Pensioners Party, United Torah Judaism and the National Union/National Religious Party. Edelstein said the legislation was based on bills passed in the early 1990s to speed up the creation of housing for the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Also Wednesday, the Knesset approved in its preliminary reading a bill proposed by NU-NRP faction chairman Uri Ariel to establish a center to commemorate the 21 Gaza communities evacuated in the summer of 2005. MKs from Kadima, the Gil Pensioners Party, Shas, UTJ, Likud and Israel Beiteinu supported the bill, which would establish a center similar to the Rabin Heritage Center at Tel Aviv University, to serve as a research institute, archive and educational resource for future generations - as well as an official memorial for those communities. The project would be funded by the state, and the government would be obligated to provide land for the center.