- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip evacuated at the same time instead of in three stages, officials said yesterday, reflecting a major shift in the tactics of his pullout plan.

Mr. Sharon’s goal, presented to his Security Cabinet yesterday, is to prevent drawn-out and violent confrontations between settlers and security forces, as well as multiple confrontations in his Cabinet.

The plan apparently failed to win outright Cabinet support.

According Mr. Sharon’s “unilateral disengagement” plan approved in June, the Gaza settlements are to be removed in three stages by the end of September 2005. Four small West Bank settlements also are to be evacuated.

Since he first raised the plan in December, settlers have been organizing to resist. Although most of the 8,000 Gaza settlers are expected to accept compensation or alternative housing and leave quietly, a small hard-core group of settlers likely would try to fend off security forces.

Faced with a Cabinet rebellion, Mr. Sharon rammed the plan through in June, but had to agree to additional votes for each stage of the evacuation.

The Cabinet yesterday voted to authorize police to handle the actual removal of settlers, but resisted a one-stage pullout.

“It’s all words,” Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev of the pro-settler National Religious Party told Army Radio. “We approved all the backdrops, but there is no approval for the performance itself.”

Mr. Sharon already has lost two battles over his pullout plan — a nonbinding referendum by party members and a convention vote.

Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said the prime minister would present a timetable for Cabinet and parliament votes on the evacuation to his rebellious Likud Party legislative faction today.

“The prime minister made it clear that he is moving one step ahead with his determination to implement the disengagement plan,” Mr. Gissin told Associated Press Television News. He said Mr. Sharon would present “the detailed, specific timetables and dates of the stages in the decision-making process.”

Israel concluded a round of discussions with the World Bank about the planned pullout on Sunday, officials said. Israel has proposed leaving a Gaza Strip settlement intact to be used as a hospital after the pullout and wants to sell an industrial zone on the edge of the coastal strip to international bodies.

Mr. Sharon received a conditional boost from visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. After a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Mr. Fischer said if the Gaza pullout plan presaged similar steps in the West Bank, “this would lead to a breakthrough, and we in Germany and the [European Union] are ready to engage ourselves.”

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