Cabinet Votes 5-4 for $250 Million Compensation Package for the Settlers in Northern Sinai

The Cabinet voted 5-4 this morning to approve a 4.4 billion Shekels ($250 million) compensation package for the settlers in northern Sinai. Premier Menachem Begin cast the deciding vote on the issue. Two ministers abstained.

The settlement was hammered out by Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Simcha Ehrlich with the settlers of Yamit and Rafah who must relocate when Israel completes its withdrawal from Sinai next April. It was bitterly opposed by Finance Minister Yoram Aridor who reportedly warned after the Cabinet decision that he would demand further cuts in the national budget to pay the added compensation.

The sum endorsed today is 20 percent higher than the ceiling previously set by the Cabinet. Another opponent of the deal, Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy said it “violated all criteria.” But Ehrlich, who was backed by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon as well as by Begin, reportedly told his colleagues that the high price was worth paying to ensure a peaceful withdrawal from Sinai.

Northern Sinai was the scene of disorderly protests by the settlers in recent weeks. Houses have been set afire, access roads were blocked and trenches were dug to signal the government that the householders, businessmen and farmers would resist evacuation unless their compensation demands were satisfied.

BEGIN WANTS TO AVOID BLOODSHED

Begin was said to want to avoid bloodshed at all costs. But he still must deal with ideologically motivated squatters, chiefly Gush Emunim militants from other occupied territories, who have been occupying abandoned houses in northern Sinai with the stated purpose of blocking the withdrawal. So far, the government has made no attempt to prevent their infiltration of the region.

The Cabinet met in Begin’s home where the Premier is recovering from a painful hip injury. Aridor argued vigorously that the State could not afford the sum negotiated by Ehrlich. He note that an industrial worker would have to labor 70 years to save what individual Sinai settlers will now receive. Levy accused the government of surrendering to violence, thereby signaling every other special interest group that violence pays.

Begin defended the large sum on grounds that the economy has improved and Israel’s exports are growing. He maintained that “one more good export deal” would pay for the compensation to the settlers. He shared Ehrlich’s view that Israel had to pay the price for a peaceful evacuation of Sinai.

But Levy contended that bloodshed was unavoidable even it compensation is paid because force will be needed to remove the squatters who are not seeking compensation but the permanent retention of eastern Sinai by Israel.

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