Donald Macintyre: Israel's generous payoffs take the sting out of relocation

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The Independent Online

One factor weighed by Gaza settlers deciding whether to heed the call to leave by midnight tonight, is the government's threat that they will lose some of the generous benefits allocated in compensation if they don't.

If the long-term cost of settlements - in the lives of soldiers protecting them as well as in hard cash - has been one factor fuelling Israeli support for Gaza disengagement, the one-off cost of withdrawal is also formidably steep - $2bn or around half of Israel's annual health budget. About $1bn will go on relocation costs.

It has done little to diminish a sense of grievance, but settler families can expect to receive a compensation package of about $450,000 including rent for six months, or longer for those building new homes. The exact amount depends on size of family, length of stay in Gaza and how much land they own. Families prepared to take their pioneering skills to new communities in the Negev and Galilee can receive another $30,000, in land or cash.

Workers who lose their jobs - including the unusually high number who work for the Gush Katif municipality - will be eligible for unemployment benefits ranging up to twice the average salary for up to six months. Workers between the ages of 50 to 55 would be eligible for a year's compensation, and those older than 55 would be given a pension until they are 67.

Farmers leaving greenhouses can receive 60-65 per cent of market value, but no additional funds for leaving operations intact. The US would probably have provided funds to bring the total up to full market value but the Palestinians objected to the idea of international aid going to Israel to compensate residents of settlements declared illegal under international law.

An ingenious - and personally expensive, as he provides $500,000 of his own money - solution brokered by James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, sees a group of US donors pay around $14m for about 70 per cent of the businesses to the Economic Co-operation Fund, an Israeli NGO, to take the compensation up to full market value. Some businesses are being moved in their entirety by the farmers. Like the army's strenuous efforts to avoid clashes with settlers, compensation is set to lessen settlers' pain - pain which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has often acknowledged. It also makes the more baffling the most extravagant denunciations of disengagement - including the surreally inappropriate calls made by the most extreme of its opponents comparing the Gaza withdrawal with the Holocaust.