(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this morning (Wednesday, May 18, 2005), chaired a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan.

Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Ehud Olmert reported that officials from his ministry are currently working to establish a center for promoting employment for Gaza Strip residents.  The center will be open to all settlers and will conduct interviews and tests for those interested in order to assist them in finding new places of employment.  To the extent that it is necessary, professional training courses and workshops will be held in order to expedite the process of finding employment.  The employment center is expected to significantly shorten the process and will enable follow-up and support for the settlers.  In this regard, Prime Minister Sharon said: “It is important that this center be established within a few days so that people will have an address for everything regarding employment.  People must know how to reach this center.”

From Industry, Trade, and Labor Ministry data, it arises that there is a direct link between the period in which the settlers become acclimated in their new places of residence and their finding alternative employment.  Studies that were done during the evacuation of Yamit show that the faster people find an employment framework, the easier it is for them to adjust to their new lives.  Ministry data also show that, as of 2004, 3,016 employed persons resided in the Gaza Strip, with 2,650 being wage earners and 366 being independents.

Education Ministry data show that approximately 40 educational institutions are currently operating in the Gush Katif area, with approximately 1,680 students.  Education Minister Limor Livnat said that a dialogue is being held with settlers’ representatives and added that it has been agreed upon that, to the extent necessary, relief will be given to students from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria vis-a-vis matriculation exams.  The minister announced that she has instructed Education Ministry officials to prepare educational and social activities for the period beginning with the summer vacation and up to mid-August. “These are the most critical weeks," she said, "and I wouldn’t want to see Gaza Strip youth left without any framework during this period.”

Minister Livnat reported that a professional ministry staff would accompany the entire disengagement process from beginning to end, with part of its functions being: operating a switchboard for parents’ questions; considering alternatives for assigning students and teachers throughout the country; establishing action and monitoring centers for students and teachers; making preparations for the construction of new educational institutions (both permanent and temporary); preparing for transporting students who study outside Gush Katif from their new places of residence to their schools, etc.

It should be pointed out that the Education Ministry has recently increased hours of instruction and counseling at schools in the Gaza Strip in order to provide for as many unique social activities as possible for students.  Ministry Southern District Director Amira Haim explained that government representatives are meeting daily with teachers in order to find alternative places of employment within the education system.  It should be emphasized that the government has committed itself to continue employing these teachers.

Prime Minister Sharon commended Minister Livnat and said that, “I see that you have done very thorough work here.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni briefed ministers on the progress in contacts with settlers’ representatives regarding the Nitzanim plan.  In her words, 426 families from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria have signed onto the Nitzanim plan, the great majority having also signed a legal document in which they declare their desire to move their place of residence to Nitzanim. The minister added that contacts are being held with an additional group of settlers, with whom agreements have yet to be concluded.  “Time is very short and the settlers must understand that if they don’t give us a green light very soon, we will be unable to put these solutions at their disposal,” she said.

The ministerial committee authorized a government team led by Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen to negotiate with the settlers and reach agreement with them, according to Article 85 of the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law.  The committee also authorized the Israel Lands Administration to negotiate with landowners in the northern Ashkelon area and to reach conditional agreement with them regarding land purchases.

Prime Minister Sharon ordered the purchase of 320 mobile homes to serve as temporary housing for settlers and directed that preparations be made to purchase approximately 300 additional mobile homes in the future.  The additional purchase will be made according to progress in the contacts with settlers.

“Time is limited," Sharon said, "and it must be clear that the government will be able to respond to their requests up to a certain date, but that afterwards nothing is assured.”