Israel’s Cabinet debated a bill that would pay Jewish families living west of the security fence $305,000 each to leave voluntarily.
The debate was not scheduled to come to a vote.
Ehud Olmert, in what may be his last Cabinet meeting as prime minister, told lawmakers following the debate that “the notion of a Greater Israel no longer exists, and anyone who still believes in it is deluding themselves.”
Under the $2.5 billion evacuation-compensation bill, settlers who agree to move to the Negev would receive a financial settlement that is 25 percent higher than the $305,000 and those moving to the Galilee would receive 15 percent extra in restitution.
Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, the bill’s author, told the Cabinet that about 18 percent of settlers – more than 11,000 people – would be willing to leave immediately.
“Vacating the residents of Judea and Samaria is an inevitable step, considered by anyone who believes in the two-state solution, which is the majority of the Israeli public,” Ramon said.
The candidates for the leadership of the Kadima Party – Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter – spoke against pursuing the legislation now.
A critic of the bill, Eli Yishai of the Shas Party, said: “This legislation is a colossal strategic mistake and presents Israel as lacking in principles. We still have not recovered from the cursed expulsion and there are people dragging us into further expulsion,” he said, referring to Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip.