The 5-Minute Briefing: What's going to happen to Israel's settlers?

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The Independent Online

This summer, Ariel Sharon plans to dismantle all 21 Gaza settlements in the first pull-out of Jewish settlers from occupied Palestinian territories.

This summer, Ariel Sharon plans to dismantle all 21 Gaza settlements in the first pull-out of Jewish settlers from occupied Palestinian territories.

What is a settlement?

The term has been used to describe Jewish communities - in effect mini-colonies - on Arab territory conquered in the Six-Day War in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza. Settlements range from rural mobile home outposts and single houses in Arab east Jerusalem to gated beachside communities in Gaza to the town of Ma'ale Admumim (pop 35,000) outside the capital. To most Palestinians they represent what is worst about the occupation; they are regarded by most of the international community, including the UK, as illegal. Israel has never accepted this, though it does accept that many of the 100 outposts are illegal under Israeli law.

Eight thousand settlers live in Gaza and about 420,000 in the West Bank, including 180,00 round Jerusalem in what Israel regards as permanently annexed territory.

How will Gaza disengagement go?

No one can be sure. The Gaza settlers are angry with Mr Sharon because since the 1970s he had done more than any other Israeli politician to promote settlements. So far only a small majority have volunteered to leave for compensation of $200,000 (£100,000) to $300,000. But Yonathan Basi, head of the Disengagement Administration, says 70 per cent will do deals. That would leave up to 2,500 who may have to be forcibly evacuated by police and troops who could face even armed resistance. The security services are also worried about extremist threats to Mr Sharon. So far, there has been little or no co-ordination between Israel and the Palestinians on the planned withdrawal. Under present plans Israel will still control Gaza's crossings and airspace.

What does it mean for the West Bank settlements?

The international community hopes Gaza disengagement will be a first step back to the internationally agreed "road map" and will presage further negotiated large-scale withdrawals from the West Bank. But Israel has refused to honour its obligations under the road map to freeze West Bank settlement expansion and dismantle outposts, saying Palestinians must first dismantle the "terrorist infrastructure". President George Bush conceded last April that the biggest settlement blocks, including Ma'ale Admumim, would stay in Israel in any final peace deal. Israel thinks that means such settlements can be expanded now. The optimistic view is that withdrawal from Gaza, creating its own dynamic, will be followed by further Israeli pullouts, negotiated or not, from the West Bank. The pessimistic view is that "Gaza first" will turn into "Gaza last".

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