The Maskiot mess

Worst of all, Peretz's reversal came one day after the PM promised to speed resettlement.

peretz fence tough 298.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peretz fence tough 298.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On Friday Defense Minister Amir Peretz backtracked from his previous decision - proclaimed only two weeks earlier - to permit construction of 30 housing units for Gush Katif evacuees in Maskiot. Predictably, this latest flip-flop has generated much flak against Peretz from all sides of the political spectrum. Indeed it's hard to fault Peretz's critics - from either the Left or Right. Maskiot started out in 1982 as a Nahal outpost in the Jordan Valley and now serves as a pre-military training facility. The foremost clamor for installing a more permanent and viable community there comes from existing Jordan Valley communities, overwhelmingly linked to Peretz's own Labor Party. Indeed the Jordan Valley, with only a sparse Arab population, is considered part of Israel's national consensus and vital to Israeli security. It was settled primarily at Labor's direct initiative and the Labor-affiliated settlements were dubbed "security settlements" by Yitzhak Rabin, as distinguished from what he branded "political settlements." Ariel Sharon personally promised to invigorate the distressed Jordan Valley bloc with Gush Katif evacuees. Thirty families, mostly from Shirat Hayam, had signed up for the Maskiot project and thorough planning of the project was undertaken and completed. Peretz's ratification was the last-phase rubber stamp. He now explains his about-face as triggered by international disapproval. The US State Department expressed its displeasure and the EU was particularly censorious. Finland, which held the organization's presidency till the end of 2006, called Maskiot "an illegal unilateral action," and argued that when Europe endorsed disengagement it "did not sanction resettlement in the West Bank." None of this, however, should have surprised Peretz, who should have expected a hue and cry abroad. One option, then, could have been to opt not to proceed with Sharon's plan. Conversely, pressing ahead should have constituted an assertion of Israeli independence vis-as-vis Europe and other habitual critics. Amazingly, Peretz, nonetheless, managed to offend everyone. Dubi Tal, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, charged that "what moved Peretz wasn't foreign relations. He was willing to take his chances with the international community a few weeks back. Now uppermost on his agenda is the Labor leadership primary, motivating him to curry favor with Labor's left-wing and Arab sector. That takes precedence over the vital national interest of retaining and fortifying the Jordan Valley." But Peace Now, which attacked Peretz's initial decision, has raked him over the coals. Dror Etkes, its settlement monitoring coordinator, carped at "the continued zigzag, which only reflects the ongoing decision-making muddle at the highest places, the surrender to pressure from different directions and the inability to formulate consistent policy guidelines." Needless to say, the reaction of Gush Katif evacuees is scathing. From their vantage point it's "another instance of betrayal and political profit-making at our expense." Worst of all is the fact that Peretz's reversal came one day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with the evacuees to promise he would speed up their resettlement and assure less bureaucracy and fairer treatment than heretofore. So far, few evacuee families have been relocated to a permanent home, most breadwinners are unemployed, only 10 of 400 farmers were given land (and even that woefully inadequate and not arable) and advance payments on compensation (the extent of which is not finalized and bogged down in red-tape) are eaten up by the evacuees to provide for basic subsistence. Last week, some plots near Ashkelon were raffled off among the evacuees, but they are generally unable to finance house construction at this point. Indeed, a new Knesset bill co-sponsored by Avigdor Yitzhaki of Kadima, a close Olmert ally, proposes to increase the compensation for homes, flourishing farms, thriving plants, hothouses and businesses that were lost in Gush Katif. The bill's 63 signatories (a House majority) agree that what has been offered thus far is derisory and unfair. Olmert has asked that the bill be put on hold and he be given a "second chance" to deal with the evacuees without binding legislation. His first move was last week's meeting. What followed from Peretz the next day is undoing whatever little faith remains in the system.