Removing West Bank Settlers Would Cost $10 Billion: Group

Paying Israel’s West Bank settlers to give up their homes for a future Palestinian state would cost about $10 billion, a peace group said. Settlers said today that the final price could be double that.

Assuming Israel would have to move about 100,000 people if a peace accord is reached, the organization, Blue White Future, estimates that compensation of $400,000 would be needed for each of 25,000 households, Co-Chairman Gilead Sher said. Fifty percent of those affected would move voluntarily, while about 40 percent would refuse, the group said, based on survey findings presented yesterday.

“This is an amount Israel can easily finance out of its own budget expenditures,” Roby Nathanson, head of the Tel Aviv-based Macro Center for Political Economics, which conducted the survey, said on a conference call. Roughly half the money would compensate settlers for their homes, while the rest would cover costs such as building infrastructure, new homes, psychological counseling and job training, he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a framework for continuing peace talks beyond the nine months they originally approved. The period for negotiations ends April 29, and Obama met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday at the White House to push for the agreement, which he described as “very challenging.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House on March 3.

No Plans

Blue White Future, which advocates a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, is led by Sher, who headed Israel’s peace negotiating team from 1999 to 2001; Ami Ayalon, former chief of Israel’s Shin-Bet security agency; and Orni Petruschka, a technology investor who sold the fiber-optic company he founded, Chromatis Networks Inc., to Lucent Technologies Inc. for about $4.7 billion in May 2000.

Netanyahu has said he doesn’t intend to remove any settlers from the West Bank. Israel evacuated more than 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 when the area was turned over to Palestinian control.

The report focuses on 100,000 settlers who live farthest from Israel’s boundaries on the eastern side of the security barrier the government erected a decade ago in the face of Palestinian suicide bombings. Palestinians say the Israeli barrier is an illegal attempt to annex their land and limit freedom of movement.

Settlements ‘Illegitimate’

Abbas maintains all Israel’s West Bank settlements are illegal under international law governing occupied territories, a position supported by the United Nations. The U.S. says the settlements are “illegitimate” and new construction should be halted. Israel describes the West Bank as “disputed territory” and says the final status of the settlements should be decided in peace negotiations.

The survey doesn’t deal with about 250,000 settlers in areas of the West Bank that Blue White Future expects will become part of Israel under a peace deal, or an additional 200,000 who live in parts of east Jerusalem that Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Tel Aviv-based group says that 30 percent of settlers surveyed would leave immediately if fairly compensated and 50 percent would leave voluntarily under a peace agreement.

‘Absurd’ Figure

The Yesha Council, which represents settlers, called the $400,000 figure “absurd,” considering Israel’s real estate market, where prices have jumped 80 percent in the past seven years. “Compensation needed for each household for housing alone will be much higher than $400,000, maybe double,” Dani Dayan, the group’s chief foreign envoy, said in an e-mail.

Voluntary evacuation “would unequivocally demonstrate that Israel is serious about seeking a two-state solution” and “increase the chance of the negotiation track succeeding,” Sher said. At the same time, it would yield “savings, benefits and dividends accumulated as a result of much less indirect investments that the government of Israel keeps putting into the settlements,” he said.

The Blue White survey of 501 settlers was conducted last year and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.