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Israeli Cabinet approves Sharon plan for pullout

A Jewish settler boy rides near an Israeli tank in the central Gaza Strip.
A Jewish settler boy rides near an Israeli tank in the central Gaza Strip.
Tsafrir Abayov, Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won an important victory on Sunday as his Cabinet easily approved a plan to compensate Jewish settlers who would be uprooted from the Gaza Strip under his withdrawal plan.

It was the first of several crucial votes on the plan set for the coming days.

Sharon has faced strong challenges to his Gaza withdrawal plan in recent months as the well-organized settler movement and right-wing politicians, including members of his own Likud Party, have lobbied hard to derail the proposal.

But Sharon triumphed in Sunday's vote as expected, and appears likely to win two votes of even greater importance in the Israeli parliament. This would give him significant momentum and a large measure of the political authority he needs to proceed with the Gaza evacuation, tentatively planned for next summer.

The Cabinet voted 13-6 on Sunday in favor of a bill that would set the guidelines for compensating the roughly 8,000 settlers who would be removed from Gaza, along with several hundred who would leave the West Bank under Sharon's plans.

The compensation formula, which was outlined previously, calls for paying each family $200,000 to $300,000 for the value of their home and for helping them resettle elsewhere. The exact figure would be based on several factors, including the size of the home, the length of time the family lived in it and the family's income while in Gaza.

Under the measure, settlers who resist evacuation and clash with the security forces could face up to five years in jail.

The measure is to go to parliament on Nov. 1. It is expected to pass, which would be an important step forward for Sharon.

"The law will, as much as possible, ease conditions for the settlers who are to be evacuated," he said at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting.

On Monday, parliament is to begin its single most important debate on the withdrawal: Whether to support it in principle. Lawmakers have set aside two days for what is sure to be a stormy discussion, and they plan a vote Tuesday night.

If Sharon wins backing for the general plan, it greatly improves his prospects in the subsequent Cabinet and parliamentary votes on the details.

Sharon's aides say he expects to capture 66 or 67 votes from the 120 members of parliament, which would give him a comfortable, though not overwhelming, majority.