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      Cabinet Votes: 25 Communities to be Destroyed

      The Cabinet voted, 17-5, to approve the destruction of 25 communities in Gush Katif and northern Shomron.
      First Publish: 2/21/2005, 9:08 AM / Last Update: 2/20/2005, 11:56 AM

      As a result of the vote, Prime Minister Sharon is expected to sign, possibly as early as today, expulsion orders for the 8,500 Jewish residents. The orders are to take effect five months from now, on July 20.

      The Cabinet held a 7-hour meeting on the topic, with a 90-minute recess in the middle. The wide margin of victory for the implementation of the disengagement plan was enabled by the recent addition of the Labor Party to the government.

      The Cabinet has divided the 25 communities of Gaza and northern Shomron into four groups – and it had been reported for months that a separate vote was to be held shortly before the destruction of each group. The purpose of those votes was to have been to assess whether the circumstances justify canceling or postponing the evacuation.

      However, the Prime Minister's Media Advisor released an announcement after today's vote, in which he specified that the Cabinet will "reconvene close to the evacuation of each group of communities in order to discuss the then-existing circumstances and whether or not they affect the evacuation." It therefore appears that no vote will be required.

      Health Minister Danny Naveh - who opposes the disengagement - said in fact that the future discussions are insignificant, and that for all intents and purposes, the die has been cast.

      The first group of communities slated for destruction includes only three: Morag, Netzarim and Kfar Darom - the more isolated of the Gaza towns. Morag is appended to the east of the southern tip of the Gush Katif communities, while Kfar Darom is three kilometers to the north of Gush Katif. Netzarim is another ten kilometers further north, in central Gaza; residents and visitors travel to and from Netzarim accompanied by military convoys roughly every hour.

      The second group of communities to be forcibly transferred includes the four in northern Shomron – Ganim, Kadim, Sa-Nur and Chomesh. The third group is the largest, including all 15 communities within the approximately 85-square kilometer (33 square miles) area of Gush Katif. The fourth group is the three secular communities of northern Gaza – Elei Sinai, Nisanit and Dugit. The final order of the groups' expulsion has not yet been set.

      Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in what many analysts view as a shrewd political move, voted against the disengagement today. Netanyahu has changed his position several times on this matter. Last May, he announced that he was against the disengagement, in keeping with the results of the Likud Party referendum. A month later, however, he voted in the Cabinet in favor of a "compromise" proposal – which was different than that which the Likud voters rejected only in that it divided the disengagement into four parts.

      On October 25 of last year, when the Knesset voted on the first reading of the disengagement bill, Netanyahu implied that he would not vote in favor of the bill, and even absented himself from the plenum on the first roll call – but in the end, voted in favor. He then announced that he would resign from the government in two weeks if Sharon did not agree to a national referendum. In November, he retracted this ultimatum and remained in the government. Last week, he voted with the government on all aspects of the Evacuation/Compensation Law – and today, as noted, he voted against.

      It is widely assumed that Netanyahu wishes to place himself in right-wing position in time for the next Likud election for party leader.

      Netanyahu said that his vote against the plan is not a personal statement against Sharon. He said that when Sharon was a minister in the Netanyahu government, "he sometimes voted against my polices, and that's acceptable." Netanyahu explained that his nay vote today stems from the fact that a referendum is not being held.

      Also voting against were Ministers Sharansky, HaNegbi, Naveh and Yisrael Katz. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Education Minister Limor Livnat, who originally objected to the disengagement, have lined up with the Prime Minister and will vote in favor. Shalom has long said that he would like to see a referendum on the issue, but said today that he cannot ignore the positive changes that have occurred of late in the Palestinian Authority.

      Also on the Cabinet's agenda today was the final route of the anti-terrorism partition fence, which many feel mark Sharon's vision of Israel's final borders. It leaves over 93% of Judea and Samaria in Arab hands, while retaining only Maaleh Adumim, Ariel, Givat Ze'ev and several other communities and splinters of land in Israeli hands.