Compromise Plan on Gaza Approved by Israeli Cabinet
By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 7, 2004; Page A20
JERUSALEM, June 6 -- The Israeli cabinet on Sunday voted for a modified version of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip that included contradictory language about the evacuation of Jewish settlements.
The plan allowed dissenting members of Sharon's cabinet to approve a formula for disengagement from Gaza without immediately deciding to dismantle Jewish communities there. The revised plan passed in a cabinet vote of 14-7.
The main body of the document said: "There is nothing in this decision regarding the evacuation of settlements." But Appendix A read: "The state of Israel will evacuate the settlements in the Gaza Strip" and continued, "The intention is to complete the evacuation by the end of 2005."
Explaining the contradiction, Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Sharon, said, "You want to keep the coalition together and you don't want to lose time."
"The prime minister is determined to get the disengagement plan through as presented to the ministers in all its components and as agreed by the United States," Gissin added.
Critics said the plan contained no clear indicators of future Israeli policy in Gaza.
"As a declaration without a clear-cut plan to be followed, it's half a measure," said Labor Party leader Shimon Peres. "The policies are not clear. So we shall wait and support every move that involves a withdrawal from Gaza and dismantling of settlements."
"Better to make one move than no move," Peres said.
Also Sunday, Marwan Barghouti, leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank, was sentenced in a Tel Aviv court to five life terms for murder and another 40 years for conspiracy and membership in a "terror" organization.
"I don't care whether I am sentenced to one life sentence or 10 or 50 -- my day of liberty is the day the occupation ends," Barghouti said in the courtroom.
Barghouti was convicted of murder in the deaths of two people in the West Bank in 2001 and 2002 and three people in Tel Aviv in 2002. The Tel Aviv District Court issued the maximum sentence possible and said that as head of Fatah, Barghouti also led the Tanzim, an armed wing of Fatah, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and through these groups issued orders to kill.
Barghouti has insisted that he is a political leader not involved with violence, and that Israel does not have jurisdiction to try him. "I'm appealing to my people to resist the occupation and to seek peace," he said in court, "because peace is the shortest way to live in dignity."
The revised Gaza plan allowed the return to the cabinet room of three Likud ministers who had walked out earlier in the day. They were Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister; Education Minister Limor Livnat; and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
The revised plan includes a clause saying that under certain conditions new construction in Gaza settlements could be approved by a ministerial committee.
The revised Gaza plan also states that committees would be established that will spend months assessing how settlement evacuation should proceed. By March 2005, the government would make concrete plans on whether and how to dismantle settlements. Under the plan's appendix, all the Jewish settlements in Gaza are to be evacuated by the end of next year.
The disengagement plan, if carried out, would mark the first time that Israel evacuates settlements in the West Bank or Gaza. The only precedent for dismantling settlements is in the Sinai peninsula, which Israel returned to Egypt in 1982 as part of the Camp David accords. Sharon presided over that evacuation as defense minister.
Sharon originally presented a Gaza withdrawal initiative to his own Likud Party in a referendum, but it was defeated May 2.
For weeks, Sharon had scrambled to muster support for the measure among his cabinet. Sunday's vote took place after Sharon fired two nationalist cabinet ministers Friday so that they could not vote against the plan.
Sharon, who advocated settlement in Gaza for decades, now argues that Israel has no reason to maintain 7,500 settlers in a small enclave among 1.3 million Palestinians. He argues that evacuating Gaza could help save some of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The plan that passed includes a clause that pledges support for major Jewish settlement blocs there.
President Bush endorsed Sharon's original plan for withdrawal, and Sharon had warned his cabinet ministers they would provoke a diplomatic confrontation with the Bush administration if they rejected the proposal.
Researcher Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company