"The climate created by the government was to break the Gaza leadership and not to talk to us," former MK Zvi Hendel said Sunday, in testimony before the State Commission of Inquiry on the Handling by the Authorized Authorities of the Evacuees from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria. Hendel, who served as head of the Gaza Shore Regional Council in the early 1990s and was elected to the Knesset in 1996, was one of the most outspoken foes of the disengagement. He lived in the Gaza Strip settlement of Ganei Tal from 1977 until the unilateral withdrawal in August 2005. Hendel told the members of the committee, retired Supreme Court Justice Eliahu Mazza, Shimon Ravid and Prof. Yedidya Stern, who have been holding hearings in Jerusalem, that he had asked to appear before the commission because he was stung by accusations leveled by Yonatan Bassi, the first head of the Disengagement Administration (Sela) at a commission hearing. Bassi had charged that the reason the evacuees' resettlement program was taking so long was because the settler leadership had not known what it wanted and had refused to cooperate with the government before the withdrawal. Hendel denied the charges. He said he had regularly attended the meetings of the Knesset Finance Committee as it prepared the Evacuation-Compensation Law to deal with all the issues involved in the disengagement, including compensation for the Gaza residents. Furthermore, he had been involved in the establishment of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, which supervised the legislative process on behalf of the settlers and participated in Knesset committee meetings dealing with the law. Hendel charged that prime minister Ariel Sharon, who until then had been on close terms with him, cut off all contact and refused his requests to meet. In contrast, during government negotiations with the Palestinians over the Gaza-Jericho First agreement ("Oslo I"), Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been very open to Hendel and arranged for the deputy chief of General Staff at the time, Amnon Shahak, to meet with him every Friday for an hour to discuss the negotiations. Hendel also rejected Bassi's claim that the Gaza leaders did not know what they wanted. He said he had proposed allowing the entire population of Gush Katif to resettle as one community in the sand dunes between Ashkelon and Ashdod. Hendel said he knew that the only way the settlers could be spared some of the emotional trauma of the withdrawal was by sticking together as a community. But Bassi opposed the move and those ministers who originally supported it, changed their minds in accordance with the "climate" created by the government. In the end, the project fell, said Hendel. "The members of the community would have supported it but because of the government, it was not realized. Had the project been offered to the entire community, it would have worked." Asked why he had refused to meet with Bassi in the period leading up to the withdrawal, Hendel retorted angrily, "The person who is about to be hanged does not negotiate with the hangman." Hendel urged the commission to recommend changes in the Evacuation-Compensation Law that would improve the benefits given to the former Gaza residents. "I would have expected the government to embrace the settlers," he said. "If it had done so, we would not be angry at Sela and the government. [But] the law was not meant to compensate the uprooted but to do the minimum, to finance the recreation of what had been destroyed. "This is not 'compensation.' Compensation is what is given for the damages caused" to those who were forced to uproot themselves.