Jewish residents plan to relocate

JERUSALEM — Residents of some Jewish settlements in the northern Gaza Strip have proposed that their entire communities be moved to locations inside Israel under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from Gaza next year, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

A resident said the settlers want to remain together outside Gaza, a sign that a significant number of the 8,200 settlers slated for evacuation next year are resigned to leaving Gaza, despite vocal opposition.

Nissim Slomianski, a lawmaker with the pro-settlement National Religious Party, who met with settler representatives on Tuesday, said they remained opposed to Sharon’s withdrawal plan, but want to remain together if they are forced to leave.

“I don’t want to give the impression that they are ready to leave,” he said. “However, if there is a situation where they are taken out by force, then they want to move as an entire community.”

Slomianski declined to say which communities want to remain together, but Israeli media identified them as Nissanit, Elei Sinai and Dugit.

The three settlements are in northern Gaza along the dividing line with Israel, and their residents are generally considered the most likely to leave without much resistance. Unlike their ideologically driven counterparts deeper inside Gaza, the 1,400 people in these communities were attracted primarily by the bucolic quality of life along the Mediterranean shore.

Shosh Schatz, a resident of Elei Sinai, said several dozen families had raised the idea of being transplanted together to a spot inside Israel during a meeting last month with the governmental authority overseeing the withdrawal.

“We want to stay as a community together,” she said.

She said the group proposed a few places just across the border. “We don’t want to change our children’s schools, the places we work,” she said.

Sharon announced plans early this year to pull out of Gaza and four small settlements in the northern West Bank. With Mideast peace efforts stalled, Sharon said the moves were needed to boost Israel’s security and head off international pressure on Israel.

The Gaza pullout is scheduled for next summer, although the government is encouraging settlers to leave before then, and has authorized cash advances on compensation for settlers. A full compensation bill is still pending in parliament.

The disengagement official said about one-third of the families have contacted the administration seeking information about compensation. He said “a few” have already applied for the cash advances.

Also Wednesday, Israeli and Palestinian officials said the two sides have agreed on logistics for the Jan. 9 election to replace Yasser Arafat, who died last month, and the Bush administration approved $20 million in direct aid to help the Palestinian Authority as it prepares for the vote.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the agreement with Israel would be based on the same procedures that were in place for the last Palestinian elections in 1996. That would include a key Israeli concession — allowing residents of disputed east Jerusalem to vote. Both sides claim the city.

“I am satisfied with that. I am happy,” he said.

A new poll, meanwhile, has lent backing to earlier surveys that showed a tight race.

The poll, conducted by the independent Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, showed interim leader Mahmoud Abbas with 32 percent and challenger Marwan Barghouti with 26 percent. Barghouti is serving five life terms after murder convictions.

The poll, which questioned 1,200 Palestinians and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points, showed 9 percent backing another candidate and 27 percent undecided.