Defense Ministry girding for large settler resistance

jerusalem | Israel’s defense establishment estimates that 90 percent of Jewish settlers will resist a planned evacuation from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank next year.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and heads of the security establishment finalized military plans for the withdrawal last week. The evacuation will begin on July 3, 2005, and last 12 weeks, officials said.

Roughly 8,800 settlers will be uprooted from their homes under the plan, including all 8,200 settlers in Gaza.

The defense establishment’s projections of resistance are much higher than recently released government assessments.

The government agency overseeing the withdrawal recently said that up to one-third of settlers slated for evacuation were interested in receiving financial compensation in order to leave their homes before the official pullout begins. The government has offered advance payments to anyone willing to leave early.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the military’s plans amounted to a worst-case scenario.

“The prime minister is at least in the opinion that there will be some resistance but not to the extent that the military believes,” Gissin said. “But to be on the safe side we always plan according to the worst plausible case.”

Sharon’s “disengagement plan,” which calls for a pullout from all Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements by the end of 2005, has broad backing from Israelis, according to opinion polls. But many Jewish settlers are vehemently opposed to the plan and have vowed to resist any evacuation.

Government officials believe Gaza Strip settlers will not be the main resistance, an official involved in disengagement said on condition of anonymity. Rather, Jewish settlers from other areas will slowly “trickle” into communities slated for evacuation for the sole purpose of opposing the withdrawal, he said.

In Sanur, one of the West Bank enclaves slated for evacuation, settlers are already making preparations to resist, said Ahuva Shilo, a settlers’ spokeswoman.

She said the settlement’s population has expanded from 10 families to 20 families, or about 100 people, over the past year. Three more families are on the way, she added.

About 80 percent of the former artists’ colony fled the settlement after violence erupted more than four years ago. Only four families lived in Sanur in 2002, Shilo said.

Miriam Adler recently moved her family from the hawkish settlement of Kiryat Arba to Sanur. “Our goal is to continue developing,” Adler said, adding that there is already an active art gallery, nursery school and daycare center in the village.