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Israel's unilateral disengagement plan (Hebrew: תוכנית ההתנתקות Tokhnit HaHitnatkut or תוכנית ההינתקות Tokhnit HaHinatkut in the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law), also known as the "Disengagement plan", "Gaza expulsion plan", and "Hitnatkut", was a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, adopted by the government on June 6, 2004 and enacted in August 2005, to resettle all Israelis from the Gaza Strip and from four settlements in the northern West Bank.
Those Israeli citizens who refused to accept government compensation packages and voluntarily vacate their homes prior to the August 15, 2005 deadline, were evicted by Israeli security forces over a period of several days. The eviction of all residents, demolition of the residential buildings and evacuation of associated security personnel from the Gaza Strip was completed by September 12, 2005. The eviction and dismantlement of the four settlements in the northern West Bank was completed ten days later.
The Gaza Strip contained 21 civilian Israeli settlements, and the area evacuated in the West Bank contained four, as follows:
|In the Gaza Strip (21 settlements):|
|In the West Bank (4 settlements):|
These areas also contained numerous Israel Defense Forces (IDF) installations. Sharon said that his plan was designed to improve Israel's security and international status in the absence of political negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. About nine thousand Israeli residents within Gaza were instructed to leave the area or face eviction by the night of Tuesday August 16, 2005.
Under the disengagement plan adopted on June 6, 2004, the IDF would have remained on the Gaza-Egypt border and could have engaged in further house demolitions to widen a 'buffer zone' there (Art 6). However, Israel later decided to leave the border area, which is now controlled by Egypt and the Palestinians, through the PNA. Israel will continue to control Gaza's coastline and airspace and reserves the right to undertake military operations when necessary. (Art 3.1). Egypt will control Gaza's Egyptian border. Israel will continue to provide Gaza with water, communication, electricity, and sewage networks (Art 8)
existing customs arrangements with Israel — under which imports from Israel to Gaza are not taxed, exports from Gaza to Israel are taxed, and Israel collects customs duties on foreign products entering Gaza—will remain in force and the Israeli currency will continue to be used (Art 10).
Because the Palestinian Authority in Gaza does not believe it has sufficient control of the area at this time, foreign observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and various legal experts have argued that the disengagement will not end Israel's legal responsibility as an occupying power in Gaza. Israel and Egypt have concluded an agreement under which Egypt can increase the number of police on its side of the border, while the IDF evacuates the Gazan side. The text of the agreement is not yet public.
In his book Sharon: The Life of a Leader, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's son Gilad wrote that he gave his father the idea of the disengagement. Ariel Sharon first announced his plan at the 4th Herzliya Conference on 19 December 2003, sponsored by the Institute for Policy and Strategy. Failing to gain public support from senior ministers, Sharon agreed that the Likud party would hold a referendum on the plan in advance of a vote by the Israeli Cabinet. The referendum was held on May 2, 2004 and ended with 65% of the voters against the disengagement plan, despite most polls showing approximately 55% of Likud members supporting the plan before the referendum.
Commentators and the press described the rejection of the plan as a blow to Sharon. Sharon himself announced that he accepted the Likud referendum results and would take time to consider his steps. He ordered Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz to create an amended plan which Likud voters could accept.
Sharon had originally dubbed his unilateral disengagement plan, the "separation plan" or Tokhnit HaHafrada before realizing that, "separation sounded bad, particularly in English, because it evoked apartheid."
On June 6, 2004, Sharon's government approved an amended disengagement plan, but with the reservation that the dismantling of each settlement should be voted separately. The plan was approved with a 14-7 majority but only after the National Union ministers and cabinet members Avigdor Liberman and Binyamin Elon were dismissed from the cabinet, and a compromise offer by Likud's cabinet member Tzipi Livni was achieved.
Following the approval of the plan, it was decided to close the Erez industrial zone and move its factories to cities and towns in Israel such as Ashkelon, Dimona, Yeruham, and Sderot. This was claimed by some news sources to be for security reasons, possibly due to what a senior Palestinian security official admits to tens of Israeli soldiers and officers meeting their deaths in suicide bombings, shooting and Qassam rocket attacks there. Nevertheless, Ehud Olmert, then the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor, stated that the closing was part of Israel's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The closing was later responsible for a considerable increase in unemployment in the Gaza Strip.
As a result of the passing of the plan (in principle), two NRP (National Religious Party) ministers, Effi Eitam and Yitzhak Levi, resigned, leaving the government with a minority in the Knesset. Later, the entire faction quit after their calls to hold a national referendum were ignored.
Sharon's pushing through this plan alienated many of his supporters on the right and garnered him unusual support from the left-wing in Israel. The right believes that Sharon ignored the mandate he had been elected on, and instead adopted the platform of his Labor opponent, Amram Mitzna, who was overwhelmingly defeated when he campaigned on a disengagement plan of far smaller magnitude. At that time, Sharon referred to Gaza communities such as Netzarim as "no different than Tel Aviv", and said that they are of such strategic value that "the fate of Netzarim (a Jewish village in the Gaza area) is the fate of Jerusalem."
Many on both sides remained skeptical of his will to carry out a withdrawal beyond Gaza and the northern West Bank. Sharon had a majority for the plan in the government but not within his own party. This forced him to seek a National Unity government, which was established in January 2005. Opponents of the plan, and some ministers, such as Benjamin Netanyahu and former minister Natan Sharansky, called on Sharon to hold a national referendum to prove that he had a mandate, which he refused to do.
On September 14, the Israeli cabinet approved, by a 9-1 majority, plans to compensate settlers who left the Gaza Strip, with only the National Religious Party's Zevulun Orlev opposing. The government's plan for compensation uses a formula that bases actual amounts on location, house size, and number of family members among other factors. Most families should receive between U.S.$200,000 and 300,000.
On October 11, at the opening of the Knesset winter session, Sharon outlined his plan to start legislation for the disengagement in the beginning of November. In a symbolic act, the Knesset voted 53-44 against Sharon's address: Labour voted against, while the National Religious Party and ten members of Likud refused to support Sharon in the vote.
On October 26, the Knesset gave preliminary approval for the plan with 67 for, 45 against, 7 abstentions, and 1 member absent. Netanyahu and three other cabinet ministers from Sharon's ruling Likud government threatened to resign unless Sharon agreed to hold a national referendum on the plan within fourteen days.
On November 9, Netanyahu withdrew his resignation threat, saying "In this new situation [the death of Yasser Arafat], I decided to stay in the government". Following the vote fourteen days earlier, and Sharon's subsequent refusal to budge on the referendum issue, the three other cabinet ministers from the Likud party backed down from their threat within days.
On February 16, 2005, the Knesset finalized and approved the plan with 59 in favor, 40 opposed, 5 abstaining. A proposed amendment to submit the plan to a referendum was rejected, 29-72.
On March 28, the Knesset again rejected a bill to delay the implementation of the disengagement plan by a vote of 72 to 39. The bill was introduced by a group of Likud MKs who wanted to force a referendum on the issue.
On March 17, the IDF Southern Command issued a military order prohibiting Israeli citizens who do not reside in the Gaza Strip settlements from relocating to that area.
On August 7, Netanyahu resigned just prior to the cabinet ratification of the first phase of the disengagement plan by a vote of 17 to 5. Netanyahu blamed the Israeli government for moving "blindly along" with the disengagement by not taking into account the expected upsurge in terrorism.
|“||I don't know when terrorism will erupt in full force — my hope is that it won't ever. But I am convinced today that the disengagement will eventually aggravate terrorism instead of reducing it. The security establishment also expects an increase in terrorism. The withdrawal endangers Israel's security, divides its people and set the standards of the withdrawal to the '67 border.||”|
—Benjamin Netanyahu, 2005 
On August 10, in his first speech before the Knesset following his resignation, Netanyahu spoke of the necessity for Knesset members to oppose the proposed disengagement.
On August 15, Sharon said that, while he had hoped Israel could keep the Gaza settlements forever, reality simply intervened. "It is out of strength and not weakness that we are taking this step", repeating his argument that the disengagement plan has given Israel the diplomatic initiative.
On August 31, the Knesset voted to withdraw from the Gaza-Egypt border and to allow Egyptian deployment of border police along the demilitarized Egyptian side of the border, revising the previously stated intent to maintain Israeli control of the border.
On June 9, 2005, a poll on Israeli Channel 2 showed that public support for the plan had fallen below 50 percent for the first time. On August 10, 2005, in response to calls from Jewish religious leaders, including former Chief Rabbis Avraham Shapira, Ovadia Yosef, and Mordechai Eliyahu, between 70,000 (police estimate) and 250,000 (organizers' estimate) Jews gathered for a rally centered at the Western Wall in prayer to ask that the planned disengagement be cancelled. The crowds that showed up for the rally overwhelmed the Western Wall's capacity and extended as far as the rest of the Old City and surrounding Jerusalem neighborhoods. The prayer rally was the largest of its kind for over 15 years, since the opposition to the Madrid Conference of 1991. On August 11, 2005, between 150,000 (police estimates) and 300,000 (organizers' estimates) people massed in and around Tel Aviv's Rabin Square for an anti-disengagement rally. Organizers called the event "the largest expression of public protest ever held in Israel." According to a police spokesman, it was one of the largest rallies in recent memory.
The disengagement began with Operation Yad l'Achim (Hebrew: מבצע יד לאחים, “Giving brothers a hand"), an operation that the IDF performed at the beginning of the disengagement. The operation had no relation to the counter-missionary organization of the same name.
The aim of the operation was to give the Gush Katif settlers the option to leave voluntarily. IDF soldiers helped the settlers who chose to do so by packing their belongings and carrying them. During the operation, soldiers went into settlers' homes and presented them with removal decrees. In addition, the IDF arranged crews of social nurses, psychologists, and support to youths.
On April 8, 2005, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that Israel should consider not demolishing the evacuated buildings in the Gaza Strip, with the exception of synagogues (due to fears of their potential desecration, which eventually did occur), since it would be more costly and time consuming. This contrasted with the original plan by the Prime Minister to demolish all vacated buildings.
On May 9, the beginning of the evacuation of settlements was officially pushed back from July 20 to August 15, so as to not coincide with the Jewish holidays of the Three Weeks and Tisha B'Av, traditionally marking grief and destruction.
On July 13, Sharon signed the closure order of Gush Katif, making the area a closed military zone. From that point on, only residents who presented Israeli ID cards with their registered address in Gush Katif were permitted to enter. Permits for 24–48 hours were given to select visitors for a few weeks before the entire area was completely sealed off to non-residents. Despite this ban, opponents of the disengagement managed to sneak in by foot through fields and bare soil. Estimates range from a few hundred to a few thousand people for those there illegally at that time. At one point, Sharon contemplated deploying border police (Magav) forces to remove non-residents, but decided against it, as the manpower requirement would have been too great.
At midnight between August 14 and 15, the Kissufim crossing was shut down, and the Gaza Strip became officially closed for entrance by Israelis. The evacuation by agreement continued after midnight of the August 17 for settlers who requested a time extension for packing their things. The Gush Katif Municipal Council threatened to unilaterally declare independence, citing the Gaza Strip's internationally disputed status and Halacha as a foundation. Meanwhile, on August 14, Aryeh Yitzhaki proclaimed the independence of Shirat HaYam as "The Independent Jewish Authority in Gaza Beach", and submitted appeals for recognition to the United Nations and Red Cross.
On August 15, the evacuation commenced under the orders of Maj. Gen. Dan Harel of the Southern Command. At 8 A.M., a convoy of security forces entered Neve Dekalim and began evacuating residents. Although many settlers chose to leave peacefully, others were forcibly evicted, while some attempted to block buses and clashed with security forces. The evacuations of six settlements then commenced as 14,000 Israeli soldiers and police officers forcibly evicted settlers and "mistanenim" (infiltrators). They went house to house, ordering settlers to leave and breaking down the doors of those who did not. There were scenes of troops dragging screaming and sobbing settlers from houses and synagogues, but with less violence than expected. Some of the soldiers were also observed sobbing, and there were instances of soldiers joining settlers in prayer before evicting them. Some settlers lit their homes on fire as they evacuated so as to leave the Palestinians nothing. Settlers blocked roads, lit fires, and pleaded with soldiers to disobey orders. One West Bank settler set herself on fire in front of a Gaza checkpoint, and in Neve Dekalim, a group of fifteen American Orthodox Jews barricaded themselves in a basement and threatened to light themselves on fire.
Kfar Darom was next evacuated. Residents and their supporters strung up barbed wire fences around the area, and security forces cut their way in. Some 300 settlers barricaded themselves in the local synagogue, while another group barricaded themselves on the roof with barbed wire, and pelted security forces with various objects, and poured acid on police officers. Police removed them by force after negotiations failed, and there were injuries to both settlers and officers. On August 17, the settlement of Morag was evacuated by 200 police officers.
On August 18, Shirat HaYam was evacuated by military and police forces, after infiltrators had been removed and the settlement's speaker system was disabled after settlers used it to call on troops to disobey orders. Youth placed obstacles made of flammable materials and torched tires and garbage dumpsters. Fires spread to Palestinian areas, and IDF bulldozers were deployed to put them out. A number of people also barricaded themselves in the synagogue and public buildings and on a deserted rooftop. Aryeh Yitzhaki defended his home with an M16 rifle, and dozens of settlers barricaded themselves inside or on the roof of his home, with at least four of those on the rooftop being armed. A brief stand-off with security forces ensued, and snipers were deployed after Yitzhaki threatened to fire at troops. Security forces stormed the rooftop and arrested settlers without any violence. IDF and police forces evacuated the home after Yitzhaki surrendered weapons and ammunition belonging to his group, but were met with bags of paint and whitewash thrown by settlers, and Yitzhaki's wife and another right-wing activist initially refused to evacuate and lay on the ground holding their infants.
On August 19, The Guardian reported that some settlers had their children leave their homes with their hands up, or wearing a Star of David badge, to associate the actions of Israel with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. On August 22, Netzarim was evacuated by the Israeli military. This officially marked the end of the 38-year-long presence of Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip, though the official handover was planned for several weeks later.
The evacuated settlements were razed by demolition crews, with 2,530 homes being destroyed. All but two of the synagogues of the settlements were left intact. The remaining two synagogues, whose construction allowed for them to be taken apart and reassembled, were dismantled and rebuilt in Israel. The demolition of the homes was completed on September 1, while the Shirat HaYam hotel was demolished later.
On August 28, the IDF began dismantling Gush Katif's 48-grave cemetery. All of the bodies were removed by special teams of soldiers supervised by the Military Rabbinate and reburied in locations of their families' choosing. In accordance with Jewish law, all soil touching the remains was also transferred, and the dead were given second funerals, with the families observing a one-day mourning period. All coffins were draped in the Israeli flag on the way to reburial. The transfer was completed on September 1.
The IDF also began withdrawing its forces in the Gaza Strip, and had withdrawn 95% of its military equipment by September 1. On September 7, the IDF announced that it planned to advance its full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip to September 12, pending cabinet approval. It was also announced that in the area evacuated in the West Bank the IDF planned to transfer all control (excluding building permits and anti-terrorism) to the PNA - the area will remain "Area C" (full Israeli control) de jure, but "Area A" (full PNA control) de facto.
On September 11, the Israeli cabinet revised an earlier decision to destroy the synagogues of the settlements. The Palestinian Authority protested Israel's decision, arguing that it would rather Israel dismantle the synagogues. On September 11, a ceremony was held when the last Israeli flag was lowered in the IDF's Gaza Strip divisional headquarters. All remaining IDF forces left the Gaza Strip in the following hours. The last soldier left the strip, and the Kissufim gate was closed in the early morning of September 12. This completed the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip. However, an official handover ceremony was cancelled after the Palestinian Authority boycotted it in response to Israel's decision not to demolish the synagogues.
In addition to the synagogues, all of the greenhouses in the settlements were left intact after the Economic Cooperation Foundation raised $14 million to buy the greenhouses for the Palestinian Authority.
On September 20, the IDF temporarily entered the northern Gaza Strip, constructing a buffer zone parallel to the border near Beit Hanoun before pulling out.
Bedouin citizens of Israel from the village of Dahaniya in the Gaza Strip were evacuated and resettled in Arad. The village had had a long history of cooperation with Israel, and the residents themselves had asked to be evacuated due to security concerns.
On September 22, the IDF finished evacuating the four settlements in the northern West Bank. While the residents of Ganim and Kadim, mostly middle-class seculars, had long since left their homes, several families and about 2,000 outsiders tried to prevent the evacuation of Sa-Nur and Homesh, which had a larger percent of observant population. Following negotiations, the evacuation was completed relatively peacefully. The settlements were subsequently razed, with 270 homes being bulldozed. In Sa-Nur, the synagogue was left intact, but was buried under mounds of sand by bulldozers to prevent its destruction by the Palestinians.
Following Israel's withdrawal, Palestinian mobs entered the settlements waving PLO and Hamas flags, firing gunshots into the air and setting off firecrackers, and chanting slogans. Four synagogues were vandalized, looted, and torched. Palestinians also looted objects from destroyed homes. Hamas leaders held celebratory prayers in Kfar Darom synagogue as mobs continued to ransack and loot synagogues. Palestinian Authority security forces did not intervene, and announced that the synagogues would be destroyed. Less than 24 hours after the withdrawal, Palestinian Authority bulldozers began to demolish the remaining synagogues. The settlements' greenhouses, which were left intact by Israel, were also looted by Palestinian mobs. Palestinian Authority security forces attempted to stop them, but did not have enough manpower to be effective. In some places, there was no security, while some police officers joined the looters.
Under legislation passed by the Knesset, evacuated settlers were to be compensated for the loss of their homes, lands, and businesses. Originally, the law only allowed anyone age 21 or over who had lived in one of the evacuated settlements for over five consecutive years to be compensated, but the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that compensation for younger settlers should also be included in compensation payments to evacuated families. Settlers who lived in the area for at least two years were eligible for more money. The Israeli government offered bonuses to settlers who moved to the Galilee or Negev, and implemented a program in which settlers had the option to build their own homes, with the option of a rental grant. The Housing Ministry doubled the number of apartments available in the Negev. Farmers were offered farmland or plots of land on which to build a home, in exchange for reduced compensation. Land was to be compensated at a rate of $50,000 per dunam, with homes being compensated at a rate per square meter. Workers who lost their jobs were eligible for unemployment benefits ranging from minimum wage to twice the average salary, for up to six months. Workers aged 50 to 55 were offered years' worth of unemployment benefits, and those over 55 were eligible for a pension until age 67. A special category was created for communities that moved en masse, with the government funding the replacement of communal buildings. In cases where communities did not stay together and communal property was lost, individuals would receive compensation for donations made to those buildings. Taxes on compensation sums given to business owners were reduced from ten to five percent. The total cost of the compensation package as adopted by the Knesset was 3.8 billion NIS (approximately $870 million). Following an increase in the number of compensation claims after the disengagement, another 1.5 billion NIS (approximately $250 million) was added. In 2007, a further $125 million was added to the compensation budget. Approximately $176 million was to be paid directly to the evacuees, $66 million to private business owners, and the rest was allocated to finance the government's pullout-related expenses.
According to an Israeli committee of inquiry, the government failed to properly implement its compensation plans. By April 2006, only minimal compensation (approximately $10,000) had been paid to families to survive until they obtained new jobs, which was difficult for most people, considering that most of the newly unemployed were middle-aged and lost the agricultural resources that were their livelihood. Those seeking compensation also had to negotiate legal and bureaucratic hurdles.
This criticism received further support from State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's, report, which determined that the treatment of the evacuees was a "big failure" and pointed out many shortcomings.
By 2007, 56.8% of evacuees had found jobs, 22.3% were unemployed and seeking work, and 31.2% of evacuees were unemployed and living off government benefits rather than seeking work. The average monthly salary among the evacuees was NIS 5,380 (about $1,281), a slight rise of 2.1 percent from the average salary the year before. This was, however, a sharp drop of 39% from the settlers' average monthly income before the disengagement. The average salary among evacuees was lower than the general average, as compared to above average before the disengagement. In addition to a drop in salary, the evacuees also suffered a drop in their standard of living due to the increased price of goods and services in their places of residence as compared to the settlements.
Following the disengagement, settlers were temporarily relocated to hotels before transfer to mobile homes as temporary housing, before they could be given proper homes. By June 2010, about 70% of evacuees were still living in mobile homes. Only 30% had received permanent housing, although construction of permanent settlements for the evacuees continued to progress. By July 2010, three towns for the evacuees had been completed. Many of the permanent settlements under construction were given names reminiscent of the former Gaza settlements. By August 2010, unemployment among evacuees had dropped to 18%. The same year, a new bill was introduced in the Knesset that provided a basic pension to business owners whose businesses collapsed.
The unilateral disengagement plan has been criticized from various viewpoints. In Israel, it has been criticized by the settlers themselves, supported by the Israeli right, who saw Ariel Sharon's action as a betrayal of his previous policies of support of settlement. Conversely, the disengagement has been criticized by parts of the Israeli left, who viewed it as nothing more than a mode of stalling negotiations and increasing Israeli presence in the West Bank. The disengagement also did not address wider issues of occupation. Israel retained control over Gaza’s borders, airspace, coastline, infrastructure, power, import-exports, etc.
Within Israel, disengagement has been criticized heavily, both for its very execution, and for the manner in which it was carried out.
From the very beginning, Sharon was accused of hijacking the mandate he received for a cause for which he had not been elected. In 2003, Sharon was elected over Labor Party chairman, Amram Mitzna. Mitzna ran on a platform that included a separation plan very similar to Sharon's Disengagement Plan. Sharon ran with an opposing platform, rejecting the idea of unilateral separation from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. At a certain point, Sharon even declared that Netzarim's fate was the same as Tel Aviv's.
In the cabinet's initial June vote over the plan Benjamin Netanyahu, then Finance Minister, announced he would vote in favor of the plan only if Sharon promised to hold a national referendum to decide the fate of the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. Such a referendum was never held, in spite of Sharon's commitment.
Druze MK Ayoob Kara (Likud) strongly opposed the plan, saying it will be "terrible for Israeli security." Kara warned that Hamas would take over the Gaza Strip and use it as a base from which to attack Israel.
Some Israelis believe that the disengagement's aftermath is a disgrace. This view holds that Sharon was in such a rush to execute his plan that he did not plan accordingly for the residents that were evicted. Most of the former settlers were housed in hotels and guesthouses for the first few months, being threatened with further eviction numerous times. People were still residing in hotel rooms right up until Passover (in April) of 2006, more than eight months after losing their homes.
In August 2008 a museum of Gush Katif opened in Jerusalem near Machane Yehuda. Yankeleh Klein, the museum director, sees it as an artistic commemoration of the expulsion from the 21 Gaza settlements, and the evacuees' longing to return. The art displayed in the museum is that of Gaza evacuees along with pieces by photographers and artists who were involved in the disengagement or were affected by it.
The Disengagement Plan was also criticized by both Israelis and other observers from the opposite viewpoint as an attempt to make permanent the different settlements of the West Bank, while the Gaza strip was rendered to the Palestinian National Authority as an economically uninteresting territory with a Muslim population of nearly 1.4 million, seen as a "threat" to the Jewish identity of the Israeli democratic state. As Leila Shahid, speaker of the PNA in Europe declared, the sole fact of carrying out the plan unilaterally already showed that the plan was only thought of according to the objectives of Israel as viewed by Sharon. Brian Cowen, Irish Foreign Minister and speaker of the European Union (EU), announced the EU's disapproval of the plan's limited scope in that it did not address withdrawal from the entire West Bank. He said that the EU "will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties." However, Europe has given tentative backing to the Disengagement plan as part of the road map for peace. In the same time that Sharon was preparing the withdrawal, pointed out critics, he was favoring settlements in the West Bank, among them Ma'ale Adumim, the largest Israeli settlement near Jerusalem. According to Peace Now, the number of settlers increased by 6,100 compared with 2004, to reach 250,000 in the West Bank. In an October 6, 2004, interview with Haaretz, Dov Weissglass, Sharon's chief of staff, declared: "The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process... When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Disengagement supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians"
I strongly support [Prime Minister Sharon's] courageous initiative to disengage from Gaza and part of the West Bank. The Prime Minister is willing to coordinate the implementation of the disengagement plan with the Palestinians. I urge the Palestinian leadership to accept his offer. By working together, Israelis and Palestinians can lay the groundwork for a peaceful transition.
The imminent Israeli disengagement from Gaza, parts of the West Bank, presents an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a return to the road map... To help ensure that the Gaza disengagement is a success, the United States will provide to the Palestinian Authority $50 million to be used for new housing and infrastructure projects in the Gaza. 
On April 11, 2005, President Bush stated:
As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.
In his May 26, 2005 joint press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, in the Rose Garden, President Bush stated his expectations vis-a-vis the Roadmap Plan as follows:
Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today, it will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.
Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), stated on June 10, 2004:
I welcome the Israeli Prime Minister's proposals for disengagement from Gaza. This represents an opportunity to restart the implementation of the Road Map, as endorsed by the UN Security Council.
The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen (Ireland having Presidency of the EU at the time), announced the European Union's disapproval of the plan's limited scope in that it does not address withdrawal from the entire West Bank. He said that the EU "will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties." However, Europe has given tentative backing to the Disengagement Plan as part of the road map for peace.
Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, commended on August 18, 2005 what he called Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s "courageous decision" to carry through with the painful process of disengagement, expressed the hope that "both Palestinians and Israelis will exercise restraint in this challenging period", and "believes that a successful disengagement should be the first step towards a resumption of the peace process, in accordance with the Road Map", referring to the plan sponsored by the diplomatic Quartet – UN, EU, Russia, and the United States – which calls for a series of parallel steps leading to two states living side-by-side in peace by the end of the year.
Israel has demonstrated that it has the requisite maturity to do what would be required to achieve lasting peace, and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has demonstrated their ability to discharge their mission with carefully calibrated restraint. Prime Minister Sharon should be commended for his determination and courage to carry out the disengagement in the face of forceful and strident internal opposition.
The PA, in the absence of a final peace settlement, has welcomed any military withdrawal from the territories, but many Palestinian Arabs have objected to the plan, stating that it aims to "bypass" past international agreements, and instead call for a complete withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Their suspicions were further aroused when top Sharon aide Dov Weisglass was quoted in an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz on October 6, 2004, as saying that the disengagement would prevent a Palestinian state for years to come (see above).
This incident has bolstered the position of critics of the plan that Sharon is intentionally trying to scuttle the peace process. Israeli officials, including Weisglass, denied this accusation, and media critics have asserted that the Weisglass interview was widely distorted and taken out of context.
On August 8, 2005, Haaretz quoted a top Palestinian Authority religious cleric, Sheikh Jamal al-Bawatna, the mufti of the Ramallah district, in a fatwa (a religious edict) banning shooting attacks against Israeli security forces and settlements, out of concern they might lead to a postponement of the pullout. According to Haaretz, this is the first time that a Muslim cleric has forbidden shooting at Israeli forces. On August 15, 2005, scenes of delight took place across the Arab world, following the long-ingrained suspicion that the disengagement would not take place.
A September 15, 2004 survey published in Maariv showed that:
Polls on support for the plan have consistently shown support for the plan in the 50-60% range, and opposition in the 30-40% range. A June 9, 2005, Dahaf Institute/Yedioth Ahronoth poll showed support for the plan at 53%, and opposition at 38%. A June 17, telephone poll published in Maariv showed 54% of Israel’s Jews supporting the plan. A poll carried out by the Midgam polling company, on June 29 found support at 48% and opposition at 41%, but a Dahaf Institute/Yedioth Ahronot poll of the same day found support at 62% and opposition at 31%. A poll conducted the week of July 17 by the Tel Aviv University Institute for Media, Society, and Politics shows that Israeli approval of the disengagement is at 48%; 43% of the respondents believe that Palestinian terrorism will increase following disengagement, versus 25% who believe that terrorism will decline.
On July 25, 2004, the "Human Chain", a rally of tens of thousands of Israelis to protest against the plan and for a national referendum took place. The protestors formed a human chain from Nisanit (later moved to Erez crossing because of security concerns) in the Gaza Strip to the Western Wall in Jerusalem a distance of 90 km. On October 14, 2004, 100,000 Israelis marched in cities throughout Israel to protest the plan under the slogan "100 cities support Gush Katif and Samaria".
On May 16, 2005, a nonviolent protest was held throughout the country, with the protesters blocking major traffic arteries throughout Israel. The protest was sponsored by "HaBayit HaLeumi", and was hailed by them as a success, with over 400 protestors arrested, half of them juveniles. Over 40 intersections throughout the country were blocked, including:
On July 18, 2005, another nonviolent protest was held. The protest began in Netivot near Gaza. The protest march ended July 21 after police prevented protesters from continuing to Gush Katif.
On August 2, 2005, another protest against disengagement began in Sderot, with approximately 50,000 attendees.
A widely publicized weeklong show of support for the disengagement attracted only tens of supporters. The supporters drove in a caravan through Israel, ending in Jerusalem. According to the organizer, there were at most seventy cars involved.
Those advocating suspension or cancellation of the plan have often quoted one or more of these arguments:
Orange ribbons in Israel symbolize opposition to the disengagement; it is the color of the flag of the Gaza coast Regional Council. Blue ribbons (sometimes blue-and-white ribbons) symbolized support for the disengagement and are intended to invoke the Israeli flag.
Polls in the U.S. about the question of the Gaza pullout produced varied results. One poll commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, and conducted by the Marttila Communications Group from June 19–23, 2005 among 2200 American adults, found that 71% of respondents felt that the Disengagement Plan is closer to a "bold step that would advance the Peace Process" than to a "capitulation to terrorist violence", while 12% felt that the plan is more of a "capitulation" than a "bold step".
Another poll commissioned by the Zionist Organization of America, and conducted by McLaughlin & Associates on June 26, 2005 – June 27, 2005, with a sample of 1,000 American adults, showed U.S. opposition to the proposed disengagement. Respondents, by a margin of 4 to 1 (63% to 16%) opposed "Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from a section of Gaza and northern Samaria and forcing 10,000 Israeli Jews from their homes and businesses" and by a margin of 2.5 to 1 (53% to 21)%, agreed with the statement that "this Gaza Plan sends a message that Arab terrorism is being rewarded".
Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, criticized the Anti-Defamation League-commissioned poll, stating that the question in the poll was not whether or not respondents agreed with the Disengagement Plan, but was a subjective characterization of primary motives behind it: whether Israeli politicians are acting more for the sake of capitulating to terrorism or for the sake of continuing the road map. The Anti-Defamation League, in turn, criticized the ZOA-commissioned poll, calling its wording "loaded."
The Israeli media systematically overstated "the threat posed by those opposed to disengagement and emphasiz[ed] extreme scenarios", according to the Israeli media monitoring NGO Keshev ("Awareness"). Keshev's report states that
|“||throughout the weeks before the disengagement, and during the evacuation itself, the Israeli media repeatedly warned of potential violent confrontation between settlers and security forces. These scenarios, which never materialized, took over the headlines.||”|
Based on Keshev's research, the Israeli print and TV media "relegated to back pages and buried deep in the newscasts, often under misleading headlines" items that "mitigat[ed] the extreme forecasts." Editors delivered "one dominant, ominous message: The Police Declares High Alert Starting Tomorrow, Almost Like a State of War" Channel 1 (main news headline, August 14, 2005)
"The discrepancy between the relatively calm reality emerging from most stories and the overall picture reflected in the headlines is evident in every aspect of the disengagement story: in the suppression of information about the voluntary collection of weapons held by the settlers in the Gaza Strip; in reporting exaggerated numbers of right-wing protesters who infiltrated the Strip before the evacuation; in misrepresentation of the purpose of settler protest (which was an exercise in public relations, not a true attempt to thwart the disengagement plan); and in playing down coordinated efforts between the Israeli security forces and the settlers."
The price for this misrepresentation was paid, at least in part, by the settlers, whose public image was radicalized unjustifiably. After the disengagement was completed without violence between Israelis and a sense of unity and pride pervaded society, "the media chose to give Israeli society, and especially its security forces, a pat on the back."
In March 2006, Avi Dichter suggested that a Kadima-led government, if elected, would seek to retain control over Kiryat Arba, the Jewish areas of Hebron, the Ofra bloc, and the Jordan Valley in addition to the main settlement blocs. The exact lines, he said, would be drawn by the government in consultation with coalition partners and settler leaders, but without input from the Palestinian side. The specific settlements he mentioned would be evacuated were Elon Moreh, Yitzhar, and Itamar around Nablus; Shilo on the central mountain ridge; Psagot overlooking Ramallah; Tekoa and Nokdim in the Judean Desert southeast of Bethlehem; and Pene Hever, Ma'on and Otniel south of Hebron.
In December 2006, news reports indicated that a number of Palestinians were leaving the Gaza Strip, due to political disorder and "economic pressure" there.
In January 2007, fighting continued between Hamas and Fatah, without any progress towards resolution or reconciliation. The worst clashes occurred in the northern Gaza Strip, where Gen. Muhammed Gharib, a senior commander of the Fatah-dominated Preventative Security Force, was killed when a rocket hit his home. Gharib's two daughters and two bodyguards were also killed in the attack, which was carried out by Hamas gunmen.
At the end of January 2007, it appeared that a newly negotiated truce between Fatah and Hamas was starting to take hold. However, after a few days, new fighting broke out. Fatah fighters stormed a Hamas-affiliated university in the Gaza Strip. Officers from Abbas' presidential guard battled Hamas gunmen guarding the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.
In May 2007, the deal between Hamas and Fatah appeared to be weaker, as new fighting broke out between the factions. This was considered a major setback. Interior Minister Hani Qawasmi, who had been considered a moderate civil servant acceptable to both factions, resigned due to what he termed harmful behavior by both factions.
Fighting widened to several points in the Gaza Strip with both factions attacking vehicles and facilities of the other side. In response to constant attacks by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Israel launched an airstrike which destroyed a building used by Hamas. Some Palestinians said the violence could bring the end of the Fatah-Hamas coalition government, and possibly the end of the Palestinian authority.
Hamas spokesman Moussa Abu Marzouk insisted that Israel and the EU were to blame for the worsening situation. Expressions of concerns were received from many Arab leaders, with many offering to try to help by doing some diplomatic work between the two factions. One journalist wrote an eyewitness account of the inter-Palestinian violence stating:
Today I have seen people shot before my eyes, I heard the screams of terrified women and children in a burning building, and I argued with gunmen who wanted to take over my home. I have seen a lot in my years as a journalist in Gaza, but this is the worst it's been.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Israel's unilateral disengagement plan|
|Wikinews has related news: Israel completes Gaza strip, West Bank pull-outs|
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