Jerusalem (Oct. 28)
Rafah area residents will hold “non-stop marathon” talks with the Director General of the Agriculture Ministry aimed at the speedy conclusion of an agreement with the government on compensation for the homes and land they will abandon when Israel completes its withdrawal from Sinai next April.
Plans for the stepped up negotiations emerged following a ministerial level discussion of the matter in which Premier Menachem Begin participated and another meeting between representatives of the Rafah residents and Agriculture Minister Simcha Ehrlich. Ehrlich, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said he was prepared to intervene personally if the talks bogged down.
Begin is eager for the talks to end quickly and successfully in view of the mounting pressure and tension among the Rafah settlers as the deadline for withdrawal moves closer. The pressures are especially strong among the owners of business establishments in the northern Sinai town of Yamit which is to be evacuated.
The government has already successfully concluded an agreement to compensate the residents of Ophira — Sharm el-Sheikh — in southern Sinai. Leaders of that group said at a press conference this week that they had gotten “a fair deal.” The average family in Ophira will receive about 600,000 Shekels to be used toward buying homes elsewhere.
Mattityahu Shmuelevitz, Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, said the criteria accepted by the Ophira families should be applicable to the residents of Yamit; in fact the latter would receive larger compensation inasmuch as they own their homes whereas the Ophira residents rented theirs. But Shmuelevitz accused Yamit business owners of dragging their feet on an agreement in order to apply pressure on the government while the anti-withdrawal political movement gains strength. He warned that this tactic would backfire.
Shmuelevitz said the government would withdraw its offer if the claimants continued to refuse to negotiate. He proposed recently that the Yamit and Rafah area residents be given notice to leave within three months. He was confident that the majority would comply and would be out of the region by early next March at the latest. This would leave the hard core of refusers isolated. Shmuelevitz urged the government to deduct from their compensation payments any expenses incurred if they have to be removed by force.
Meanwhile, bitter verbal battles are going on in Yamit between residents willing to comply with the government’s withdrawal orders and die-hard settlers who insist they will not budge. Owners of business establishments in Yamit announced yesterday that they will form a “town council” to replace the government officials who legally manage the township. Other residents told reporters that the majority of people in Yamit and surrounding settlements do not sympathize with the recalcitrant business entrepreneurs or with the Gush Emunim activists who demand that the government “stop the withdrawal.”