Gaza Disengagement

The history and politics of the decision to disengage

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On December 18, 2003 over three years after the second Intifada began, Sharon unveiled the first pieces of his disengagement plan. While there had been hints at "painful concessions" earlier, only now were they coming into full view. Sharon declared that he was committed to the Road Map, a plan developed by the U.S., Russia, the E.U. and the U.N. (known as The Quartet), but that Israel would not be held hostage to Palestinian intransigence. If the Palestinians would not hold up their end of the Road Map, Israel would act in its own interest and withdraw unilaterally.

This sent ripples through the Likud party, which had traditionally represented the Greater Israel movement and the Religious Zionist camp. The Religious Zionist camp was extremely invested in the settlement projects--both physically and ideologically--and for them, disengagement posed difficulties on many levels. They made up a large percentage of those who were actively opposed to disengagement, and of those who were eventually removed from Gaza.

While Sharon was open to the possibility of coordination with the Palestinians, he made a commitment to stick to his schedule regardless of the outcome of coordination talks. Furthermore, he warned that Israel would use great force against any Palestinians interfering with the withdrawal--both to limit casualties and to prevent the appearance of "withdrawing under fire."

In the months leading up to disengagement, Israel was also occupied with the removal and resistance of its own people from Gaza. Steps were taken to stop new protestors from getting into Gaza. In addition, there was considerable debate on how to use the Police and the Army. There was also serious concern that Israeli soldiers would resist the orders to evacuate the settlers, refusing to implement them on religious or moral grounds.

The Future of Israel

While there were many questions regarding the decision to withdraw, the main question was: Will Israel be safer? Those who supported the disengagement believed that moving Israel out of Gaza would reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as free up vast sums of money (then being spent on the small settler population) to advance other issues on the national security agenda.

They argued that Gaza, surrounded on all sides by Israel and Egypt, would be far less of a threat to Israel. With preliminary agreements in place for Egypt to police its border with Gaza, Israel's withdrawal would be comprehensive, with all the tactical and political benefits that would bring. Israel would no longer have any obligations to Gaza, and the Gaza population would have no claims to make against Israel.

Those who opposed the disengagement pointed to the example of Lebanon. It was no coincidence, they maintained, that the second Intifada broke out a little more than a year after the unilateral withdrawal. They cautioned that radical Palestinian groups, specifically Hamas, would declare that they had gained all of Gaza without any concession to the Israelis, strengthening and emboldening the Palestinian rejectionist movement. Further, by ceding control of the borders, Gaza would have greater access to weapons, both in quantity and quality. This would make security infinitely worse for Israel.

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Noah M. Levine received a Master's Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University's School of International & Public Affairs. His focus was in Security Policy and the Middle East. Prior to this, Noah spent several years living and working in the Middle East.