Winds of change

Israelis like Beni Raz, Yonatan Nesimi and David Avidan may have found themselves on the other side of the separation barrier, but their key supporters - Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan and Labor's Colette Avital, co-sponsors of the evacuation-compensation bill, ended up outside the Knesset following the recent elections. Raz calls the election results a catastrophe. "It makes it harder for the residents to believe that it will pass." The bill was first introduced in early 2006, and signed by 16 mainly Labor and Meretz MKs in addition to Vilan and Avital, who continued to push for it in the 17th Knesset, where it also received support from the Gil Pensioners Party and Arab parties. In September 2008, Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon brought the bill to a cabinet meeting where it was debated. Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz criticized it for "weakening the position of Israel in all future negotiations." Since then, the program has effectively been on ice. Unsurprisingly, Dani Dayan, chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, opposes the bill, which he derides as "checkbook democracy. He proposes an alternative: "We wouldn't oppose a two-fold arrangement where every Israeli who wants to leave will receive help to do so and every Israeli who wants to go and live in Judea and Samaria will get a permit." He predicts that such a program would double the Jewish population in the West Bank, which despite massive investment in infrastructure since 1967 remains short of Ariel Sharon's 1977 vision of two million Jews living in the West Bank. Vilan says that he is "not optimistic" about the new Knesset, but is determined to push for the bill from outside. He told Up Front that he intends to return to the Knesset in a personal capacity to rally support, hoping to gain 15 to 20 signatures from MKs in addition to a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu once he forms a new government. "If Netanyahu is smart enough, such a bill can put off the dilemma the government is going to face from the American government and mounting international pressure," he says. "I think that under special circumstances, like those that he will be in during the next few months, he can be a partner. He's a pragmatic person; the problem is that his partners in the government will be against it." Raz and other Bayit Ehad activists are waiting for a new government to be formed before deciding where to turn next. One beacon of hope could be Ramon, who supported the bill in the previous Knesset. "Minister Haim Ramon believes that the separation fence has created a reality where, in the time of peace, Israel will no longer apply sovereignty to the east side of the fence, and that this obligates the government of Israel from a moral point of view to allow whoever lives in these areas to be evacuated from their homes now and to move to live west of the fence without being harmed from this," a spokesperson for the Kadima MK said. "Minister Ramon will continue to work to promote the plan as well the promotion of other ideas which he believes in, through all the tools at his disposal."