The Jewish Agency said "no" to disengagement Wednesday, even though it agreed to build new homes for Gaza Strip settlers in the Negev and Galilee.
"We are not in the business of relocating Jews, we are in the business of building new homes, new towns, and new settlements for anyone that wants to settle in the Negev," said former agency chairman Mendel Kaplan.
"Do we want to involve Diaspora Jewry in the same conflict that is splitting apart Israel in terms of Gaza?" he asked members of the Board of Governors during a heated debate about the role of world Jewry in the disengagement plan.
The resolution, adopted by the board deliberately omitted any mention of why the homes need to be built or for whom they would be built. It explains instead that the Jewish Agency is heeding a request by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to construct homes with government funds.
Sharon on Sunday night asked the agency in a public celebratory ceremony to help relocate the Gaza settlers in the Negev and Galilee.
Conversations were already under way between the government and the agency on this matter.
Board members noted that Sharon should have made more of an effort to court them, explaining that he didn't come to any of their meetings in Jerusalem this week to personally explain why this is important.
Instead, they heard about the positive aspects of disengagement from Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres and MK Haim Ramon, and Absorption and Immigration Minister Tzipi Livni (Likud).
Earlier Wednesday, the Jewish Agency Executive met and adopted a resolution that spoke of the agency's role in the disengagement process. But when it was brought before the Board of Governors later in the day, members noted that it was inappropriate for the agency to get involved in the government's political decisions and that resolutions it adopts should not include the word "disengagement."
"My problem is the connection between the Jewish Agency and the political debate that is taking place in Israel at this moment," Kaplan said.
The wording of the resolution was then changed to state the agency would respond positively to the a request by the government to build homes in the Negev and Galilee as long as funding is provided.
"This is not a political statement," agency Chairman Sallai Meridor said. "We are not involved in political discussions or decisions.
"The Jewish Agency will not engage in any way in any direct action that has to do with moving people from one place to another. Our role would be limited if necessary to those elements of building in the Negev and Galilee which is basically something we have been doing for the last 75 years.
"The government approached us because of our history, because of our potential capacity, and because in the law of Israel the Jewish Agency is recognized to be the body to establish settlements," he said.
"I felt that if we rejected this it would have been a political statement."
He added that the agency would not be involved in any other activity relating to the disengagement process.