(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

The Special Ministerial Committee on the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan, chaired by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, met this morning (Tuesday), 19 April 2005, and held a comprehensive discussion on the civilian, social and economic aspects of the implementation of the Disengagement Plan.

Prime Minister Sharon said that, “In recent days, the Government has been accused of making insufficient preparations. Gentlemen, everything that we are doing now is beyond the decisions that have already been made. It isn’t that we suddenly remembered that we had to deal with these issues but that the Government decided to take upon itself matters beyond the arrangements and decisions that have already been accepted. It must be made clear that what the Government is doing now is beyond the decisions that have already been made; this is additional assistance that I decided must be given to the evacuees.”

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that he ascribes utmost importance to the fact that the communities currently living in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria move to new locations in large and cohesive groups.

Daniel Strul, who is responsible for the Disengagement Authority’s social network, briefed Committee members on the preparations currently being carried out. He presented the Committee members with guidance kits that are being distributed to families in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. Moreover, an information booklet, which includes all the essential details that they will need aheadof the implementation of the Disengagement Plan, has been distributed to residents.  Strul said that a 24-hour telephone switchboard will begin operating soon in order to answer citizens’ questions. Disengagement Authority representatives are currently mapping the social needs of all families in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria so that every Government representative will be familiar with the family he/she is dealing with. In the context of learning the lessons from the evacuation of Yamit, it has been decided that Disengagement Authority representatives will continue to accompany evacuees for three years after the conclusion of the implementation of the Plan.

Agriculture Ministry Director-General Yossi Yishai briefed Committee members on preparations regarding moving Gaza Strip residents’ agricultural infrastructure. He said that uncertainty regarding the residents’ wishes was making it difficult to find alternative solutions.  He briefed Committee members on the lands likely to be used for moving current agricultural activity in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria and said that Agriculture Ministry personnel were holding ongoing contacts with the farmers.

Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said that nobody present was arguing with the Plan: “The Plan has already been passed and is a fact.  We must find the best possible solutions for the residents.” He raised the possibility of postponing implementation of the Plan until after the autumn holidays.  Prime Minister Sharon said: “I really want to help as much as possible but postponing the implementation of the Plan is liable to create many complications.”  Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz added: “Moving the evacuation to October is not practical.”

Prime Minister Sharon made it clear that contrary to recent reports, no agricultural plots or greenhouses were being planned for the Palmahim area. He instructed Agriculture Minister Katz to personally check with farmers in the aforementioned areas and make it clear to them that the date for the plan stands, that the Government is ready to assist them in coming up with alternative solutions and that they can receive plots of land immediately in order to begin planting. The Prime Minister also instructed that the various planning procedures continue to be moved forward.

Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Herzog commented on the two main missions facing his ministry: Finding both permanent and temporary housing solutions. The Housing and Construction Ministry has located 440 housing units for rental throughout the Negev, which can be used as a temporary solution for settlers until they move to their permanent homes.  Prime Minister Sharon has instructed the Housing and Construction Ministry to begin the process of purchasing caravans.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would support any solution that involves moving communities as groups, even if this is not financially efficient. Prime Minister Sharon said that this is the line the government intends to follow and noted that he met this morning with Homesh resident representatives on this matter.

Prime Minister Sharon instructed Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen to do everything possible in order to reach agreement with the settlers and said: “You can present several alternatives and tell the settlers that this is what there is, but I believe that it is correct to make every effort to try to reach understandings, even if this requires a lot of effort. I think this is the most correct way.”

Prime Minister Sharon announced that the Committee would meet frequently in the coming weeks.