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A Time to Move, and Move On

The Israeli parliament did more than approve a $61-billion annual budget last week. It sounded the legislative death knell for Israeli settlers who built their homes on Palestinian land won in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Failure to pass the budget would have toppled Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government; that would have caused new elections and at least a delay, perhaps a cancellation, of the settlers’ removal, an action that will benefit both Israel and the Palestinians.

Barring an unlikely intervention by the courts, Israel will remove about 8,500 settlers from Gaza, where they are heavily protected by army troops and surrounded by more than 1 million Palestinians. A few hundred other settlers will be ousted from their West Bank homes.

This should be a time for the settlers to plan where they will live next and how they will use compensation that, for some households, reaches hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, too many are preaching violent resistance to their eviction, planned for this summer.

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Religious leaders in the Jewish state have great authority. Those with special influence over settlers who believe the land in Gaza and the West Bank is theirs by biblical right should counsel against violence. Nonviolent resistance will make their point better than the use of fists, rocks or guns.

Sharon’s plan to evacuate the 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank is wise. It diminishes Israel’s security to put so much military power and money into protecting settlers on land whose occupation is a special sore point in the Arab world. Polls show most Israelis agree.

Larger West Bank settlements not scheduled for evacuation are a bigger problem. Most outside Israel consider it unlawful to hold land seized in war.

But 11 months ago, President Bush said “already existing major Israeli population centers” would prevent Palestinians from getting back all their land when their country is created. The United States opposes expansion of those settlements, a proper policy that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reemphasized last month in an interview with The Times.

Rice said Israel’s plan to expand the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, a Jerusalem suburb, by 3,500 housing units was “at odds with American policy.” Those warnings deserve to be repeated. Palestinians worry that Sharon will stop with the abandonment of Gaza and the four West Bank communities, leaving others in place that will make an eventual Palestinian state a network of unconnected towns.

Two weeks ago, settlers in the Gaza community of Netzarim dedicated a new school. Shlomit Ziv, a resident and schoolteacher, said that despite the impending removal of settlers, “things can change in a minute” and the “commandment to live and blossom in this land doesn’t change because the government says it does.”

Sharon was an architect of the settlements on Palestinian land, including Netzarim. He needs to talk to Ziv and her settler friends to convince them that their place is inside Israel, not the occupied territories. And they would be wise to heed his reasoning and the sentiments of the Israelis who voted the government into power.


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