Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - At best Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan would solve only some of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians. At worst, "everything" could go wrong with it, a senior Israeli government official said.
The disengagement plan, backed by President Bush and many industrialized nations, calls for a unilateral Israeli evacuation of four Israeli communities in the West Bank and the removal of 7,800 civilians living in 22 communities in the Gaza Strip as well as the evacuation of army installations in the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005.
The plan has divided Sharon's own Likud party, reduced his government to minority support in the Knesset - which could bring about its collapse - and galvanized support for withdrawal on the Israeli left.
Although legislation that would implement the disengagement plan is still in the process of being formulated, preparations are under way for carrying out the plan, based on the assumption that the evacuations are going to be carried out, a senior government official told members of the foreign press on Sunday.
Various details about implementation have been leaked to the Israeli press for the last several weeks. Those details include everything from how much compensation the settlers might be offered, to timelines for evacuation and what will happen to their homes and the infrastructure in Gaza once the settlers leave.
Residents of Gaza last week charged that the media was waging a psychological war against them in publishing all these details before any government official had even approached them.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that until now no proposals had been made to the settlers. There is "no basis" for discussion now, he said.
He added that every aspect of the withdrawal is under consideration, including compensation schemes and the future of the joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial zone and international passages.
In an address before North American Jews in Jerusalem, Sharon said on Sunday that he had asked the Jewish Agency for help in resettling Jewish Gaza residents in the Negev desert in southern Israel and the Galilee in northern Israel.
The Jewish Agency is a quasi-government organization funded by Jewish philanthropists from all over the world that facilitates immigration of Jewish people to Israel, among other things.
Founded in 1929 by the World Zionist Organization at the request of the British Mandatory government here at the time, it was instrumental in settling Jews in what became the state of Israel.
Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz said that in principle the Jewish Agency - celebrating its 75th anniversary this week - had agreed to the prime minister's request but the particulars would be discussed this week by the organization's board of governors.
The Jewish Agency was asked "because of its expertise in the issues of rural settlement," Jankelowitz said by telephone on Monday. "The Jewish Agency doesn't settle over the green line [i.e. West Bank and Gaza Strip]."
According to the senior government official, the Israeli government has decided to give settlers two alternatives: to be resettled in communities in the Israeli Negev or to receive compensation and then move on their own.
The government, however, has no intention of deliberately encouraging them to settle in the West Bank, although if they accept compensation they are free to do so, he said.
Everything could go wrong
Despite the careful planning, the official admitted that the plan is not foolproof. When asked what might go wrong he replied, "As a matter of fact, almost everything."
There are opposing two scenarios, he said. Those who are "very optimistic" believe that the security situation will improve, while those who oppose the plan believe that Israel will lose its intelligence edge by being out of the area.
Those who oppose the plan are not "fanatical," the official said.
No one has any illusions that the disengagement plan will solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
Even if all the good scenarios come to pass, it will solve only some problems while others would remain. But it will change something in Palestinian society "hopefully in right direction," he added.
Disengaging would remove Palestinian 'excuses'
Implementing the disengagement plan will remove the two main reasons the Palestinians have given for not fighting terrorism, the official said.
In hundreds of hours of talks over the last few years, Palestinian security officials have said they could not risk fighting against their brothers, the Palestinians in Gaza, while Israel was looking on with tanks, he said.
Nor could they take the security and political risk, they said, of fighting Hamas when there was no guarantee that Israel would leave the settlements in the end.
With the implementation of the disengagement plan, these "excuses" will disappear, the official said.
According to the official, the government hopes to have the disengagement arrangements in place by the end of October and have the civilian population evacuated by September 2005. Civilians would be removed first and then military installations, he said.
What will happen to the settlers' homes and the infrastructure that Israel has invested in during the last 30 or more years depends on whether Israel can find a "reliable third party" that would transfer the property to the appropriate Palestinians.
Israel would prefer to hand over the infrastructure and facilities to a reliable third party but would otherwise destroy them.
If Hamas were given a school to teach its theology, that would not be appropriate, but if the settlers' homes were used to resettle Palestinian refugees out of the camps, Israel would be more likely to hand over the infrastructure and facilities intact, he said.