(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this morning (Wednesday), 4 May 2005, chaired a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan.

At the beginning of the meeting, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni briefed committee members on progress in contacts with groups of Gaza Strip settlers and their attorneys. She presented the resettlement areas – located in the community of Nitzan and to the north of Ashkelon –  that were proposed to the settlers’ representatives, while emphasizing that the planned construction would harm neither the nature reserves nor the dunes. She said: “This is a modular option that depends on the number of settlers that express readiness to move to these areas. If we reach a mass of settlers, then we will be able to establish a separate local council for them.” Minister Livni said that the process of finding alternative solutions was done in keeping with Article 85 of the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, which discusses housing solutions for large groups.

Minister Livni added that it is expected that the settlers will refrain from taking violent actions during the evacuation and said, “There cannot be a situation in which someone raises a hand to a policeman and then becomes part of the alternative resettlement project in the Nitzanim area.” In this context, Prime Minister Sharon said: “It is clear that there is no intention of having the settlers declare that they support the disengagement process.  But it is to be expected that they will not undertake illegal actions.”

The committee decided that the Interior Ministry Planning Authority and the Construction and Housing Ministry would immediately start preparing a plan for resettling Gaza Strip settlers in the Nitzanim area.

Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen  presented committee members with the temporary housing solutions that will be put at the settlers’ disposal until they move to permanent housing.  He said that the state has built a comprehensive database of hundreds of available apartments for rent throughout the country, with a large number of apartments having been located in Ashkelon. The government is also working to establish temporary residence sites in three main areas: Nitzan, the Sapir Regional Council, and Yad Binyamin. Plans for temporary housing will be implemented in accordance with the level of demand for them. At the same time, the expansion of existing communities is being planned. Cohen said that such expansion will be done in accordance with the understandings that have been reached with settlers who have expressed an interest in moving to these communities.

Construction and Housing Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav briefed committee members on progress in preparations on the ground. He said that work has begun at Yevul (approximately 100 mobile homes are expected to be built), Mefalsim (32 industrial structures are expected to be built), Mavki’im (26 permanent housing units to be built), Bat Hadar (38 permanent housing units), Karmiyah (56 industrial structures), Zikim (31 industrial structures), and Talmei Yaffe (40 industrial structures). At the same time, planning teams are working on the expansion of communities; within two weeks the Construction and Housing Ministry is to issue tenders for work at all sites. Abuav said that the Defense Ministry recently issued a tender for the purchase of approximately 300 mobile homes.

The committee approved a plan according to which Gaza area communities will – within a short time – build units for rent. The cost of building these units will be levied on private contractors; to the extent that these units are populated by settlers from the Gaza Strip, the state will commit to paying the rent. To the extent that settlers do not use these units, the state will compensate the contractors.  Thus temporary rental apartments will be put at the settlers’ immediate disposal.

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that that if the units and lands designated for temporary housing are not utilized, the government would be able to either sell the temporary units or use the lands that will have been prepared with the goal of strengthening the south of the country. He said that strengthening the Negev is one of the government’s main goals; therefore, these plans jibe with government policy in any case and the work in this area will not be for naught.

The prime minister directed Disengagement Authority, Israel Lands Administration, and Agriculture Ministry representatives to complete the formulation of solutions regarding agricultural lands.  He further directed that a draft decision on this issue be submitted for cabinet approval next Sunday (8 May 2005).

Sharon said: “Everything must be done so that the disengagement is as little painful as possible. I would like – as much as possible – that everything be done by agreement.”