The government will discuss an initiative put forward Vice Premier Haim Ramon on Sunday, proposing the voluntary evacuation and compensation of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank. The matter will be debated but not brought to a vote.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said in regards to the upcoming meeting that Olmert would allow cabinet ministers to sound off on the proposal before legislation advances.
However two Kadima ministers said they doubted the current government could pass such a divisive proposal.
"This government's days are numbered, and so long as the negotiations (with the Palestinian Authority) have yet to mature, there's no room for a move like this," one minister said.
"This was apparently planned by someone who doesn't want to allow Olmert's successor to form a coalition with Shas or with other nationalist parties. It's just premature, the entire purpose of this plan is political, and it's timing – on the Olmert-Ramon front, is not a matter of chance."
Ramon announced his intentions to draw up the evacuation-compensation plan several months ago.
Recent estimates put the potential candidates for Ramon's proposal at tens of thousands of Israelis residing in settlements outside the larger blocs.
Knesset split on move
Ramon's plan faces opposition by Shas ministers in the coalition, as well as other ministers who believe there is no room for diplomatic moves a mere fortnight before the prime minister is expected to, as pledged, step down after the Kadima primary elections.
It will also draw considerable negative attention from the Right, primarily from the Likud, National Union and Yisrael Beitenu.
Associates of Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni objected to the timing of the discussion. Livni is also the frontrunner to succeed Olmert in the upcoming Kadima primaries. "This is being brought to the table too soon," said the associates. "We're not there yet. This matter should indeed be promoted, but only after the final borders are set."
Livni's chief rival in the primaries, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, slammed the evacuation-compensation bill. "It weakens Israel and weakens its position in any future negotiations," said Mofaz, adding that he would not support such a proposal.
Labor's MK Colette Avital, who also championed an evacuation-compensation bill some two years ago, welcomed the decision to bring the matter up for debate. Avital called on the government to expedite legislation on the proposal and spoke in favor of voluntary evacuation.
Yesha: Only evacuation at hand is Olmert's
Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai slammed the decision to debate the matter. "This is a move devoid of
public legitimacy, legality, and humanity. Shas will object vehemently to the move.
"These odd ideas present us not only as spineless pushovers but as invertebrates. The Israeli people have
not yet overcome the expulsion from Gaza and now there are people calling for another illegitimate expulsion."
The Yesha Council said in response to the announcement that "the only evacuation on the horizon is that of the Olmert government, and Haim Ramon within it, from our public lives."
Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer also addressed the proposal, saying "better late than never."
He added that "the government must rise above temporary political concerns and seriously promote the bill allowing thousands of settlers who want to, to return to Israel."