JERUSALEM (Nov. 24)
Racnan Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Settlement Department, proposed today that the government transplant all settlements in northern Sinai across the border into Israel as an alternative to building new settlements for the settlers who must evacuate Sinai by the end of next year in compliance with the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
Weitz brought his plan to the World Zionist Organization Executive which authorized him to present it to the Ministerial Settlement Committee. He argued that it was feasible to physically transport houses, yards, trees and green houses to new locations in the Shalom salient where the soil and climate are the same as in the Yamit and Raffiah regions of Sinai. By so doing, he said the government would avoid the phenomenon of paying “ransom” money to the settlers in compensation for their property and avoid the cost of building new settlements from scratch.
So far no official body had endorsed Weitz’s plan. It has encountered opposition from the Sinai settlers who are negotiating with the government for compensation. Representatives of Sadat, the oldest settlement, told Weitz he came too late. They said many settlers have already committed themselves to other projects after they evacuate the area.
Weitz drafted his proposal about two months ago and asked a team of experts, headed by Prof. Haim Finkel, to study the possibility of dismantling the settlements and reassembling them across the border. The experts reported that it was not only possible but could be done at 80 percent of the cost of building new settlements.
Weitz estimated the cost of moving Sadat at 20 million Shekels. But even as he outlined his plan to the WZO Executive, the Likud Knesset faction was discussing compensation for the formers of the Yamit region. The Cabinet has already approved guide lines for compensation. Only Finance Minister Yigal Hurwitz was opposed on grounds that the sums were far too generous and out of line with what the government could afford.
The Knesset Finance Committee is expected to discuss the matter tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Cabinet appointed Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, chairman of the Ministerial Settlement Committee, to work out the details of compensation. Hurwitz refused the job.