Question of Palestine home || Permalink || About UNISPAL || Search

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter

15 August 2005

Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Israel’s disengagement from Gaza was not only one of the most historic moments in its history, but also one of the bravest, most courageous and potentially dangerous initiatives any Israeli leader had ever taken, that country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning.

Dan Gillerman, describing the disengagement initiative, which began early this morning (midnight New York time), said Israel was disengaging 21 settlements in Gaza, thereby evacuating and freeing the whole of Gaza from Israeli rule and presence, and four settlements in the northern West Bank.  What Prime Minister Sharon had embarked upon, with the cooperation of his Government, his cabinet and the Israeli Knesset, was indeed the boldest and most courageous step any Israeli leader had taken, possibly since the establishment of the State of Israel.  It was also a painful and heart-wrenching decision, one which was tearing Israel apart, he said. 

Putting today’s action into a human perspective, he said young Israeli soldiers were entering 21 settlements in which about 9,000 people lived, many for some 30 years or three generations.  They had lived there legally and with the cooperation of the Israeli Government.  The soldiers would knock on the doors of those families and tell them that they must leave.  The process would mean not only the evacuation of some 9,000 people, but also the closing of 42 day-care centres, 36 kindergartens, seven elementary schools and three high schools.  Thirty-eight synagogues would be dismantled, out of fear that they would be ransacked.  Farmers on some 166 Israeli farms would lose their livelihoods, and 48 graves in a cemetery, which included the victims of terror, would be exhumed.

It was only when those very human aspects were touched upon that one could begin to understand how painful and heart-wrenching the disengagement was, he said.  The Government had decided to do it, however, believing that it was the right time to create a new reality on the ground and in the region -- to disengage from Gaza, to let the Palestinians run their own lives, not to interfere and not to rule.  Israel had never meant to rule other people.  Moving out of Gaza signalled that also. 

He hoped that the move, which was literally tearing the country apart, would be completed peacefully and without bloodshed, he said.  He hoped also that it would create the groundwork for a new reality in the region, in which Israel and the Palestinians could embark on negotiations, restart the Road Map and finally reach a peaceful settlement, namely two States living side by side in peace and prosperity.  Such a historic move brought with it a very big responsibility, he said.  It was, more than ever, a case of “now or never”. 

“If this fails, it will be decades -- generations -- before history presents us with the same leadership, with the same boldness and ability to carry out this very painful and heart-wrenching step”, he said.  The Government would do everything to carry out the disengagement democratically, proving that Israel was a country where the rule of law prevailed.  Much depended on the Palestinians, and he hoped they would be able to seize the moment.  It was an opportunity that could not and must not be lost.  “If it is, history, our children and our grandchildren will not forgive us”, he added.

He added that the noises and actions on the Palestinian side were partly encouraging, as they were mobilizing and deploying their forces to try to prevent terrorist attacks.  The celebrations and statements that said that “ Gaza was only the beginning” were, however, counterproductive, making many Israelis claim that there was a reward for terrorism, illegal acts and murder.  That was not the message that should be transmitted from such a bold initiative.  He hoped that the Palestinian Authority would act responsibly, avoid any terror activities and allow the process to be completed -- a process for which they had yearned for many years.  That process was finally under way.

Another entity whose support was extremely crucial was the international community, he said.  The international community should show unequivocal support for the measure taking place.  It should support the bravery of Prime Minister Sharon, not only in words but also in deeds.  Israel expected the international community to show that support.  The dramatic events and changes that were taking place on the ground must be reflected at the United Nations building, which had been far too slow in recognizing the changes taking place in the world.

With the General Assembly about to open its 60th session, and with the United Nations ready to celebrate its 60th anniversary, it was time for the United Nations to acknowledge Israel’s actions and prove that it too was not only supportive of it, but was doing something to demonstrate that support, he said.  Israel hoped that it would no longer be business as usual at the United Nations, as far as the Middle East was concerned.  He hoped there would be no more Israel bashing, no more ongoing, repetitive resolutions and no more outdated mechanisms that had existed for years, costing the Organization in energy, time and money.

He hoped to see a more positive and less combative Assembly, which, at the end of the day, was a meeting of all the Member States.  He also hoped that the Secretary-General, the Secretariat and every Member State would recognize the importance of the current moment and support Israel in a real way.

To what extent did the disengagement signal the demise of the dream of a “greater Israel”, and to what extent would it force Hamas to do a “Sinn Fein” rather than a “Hezbollah” in southern Lebanon? a correspondent asked.

Responding, he said he believed it was, to a great extent, a matter of a reawakening.  In fact, there was a reawakening -- hopefully by the Palestinians and certainly by Israel.  Those two peoples were reawakening from two major dreams.  One was the dream of a greater Israel which would include every inch of the territories that it had conquered as a result of a war waged against it in self-defence by several countries, including Syria, Jordan and Egypt.  Israel had reawakened from that dream, which some Israelis had, and had accepted the principle of two States living side by side. 

Israel hoped very much that the Palestinians had also awakened from another dream, a much more ominous dream, namely the destruction of Israel, he said.  Between those two dreams, a new reality was being forged today.  The new dream had to be one of both Israelis and Palestinians negotiating in good faith and, on the part of the Palestinians, fighting terrorists and dismantling their infrastructure.  For the Israelis, it was a matter of making Palestinian lives more bearable, with much more freedom of movement, prosperity, employment and autonomy.  It was also an issue of creating confidence-building measures that would eventually enable both sides to reach a final agreement.  Both sides had awakened from their dreams.  Israel was acting on its new dream.  He hoped Palestinians would do the same. 

Regarding Hamas, he said it was still one of the most destructive, cruel and brutal engines of terrorism in the region.  Hamas had never relinquished the wish to destroy Israel, to kill as many Jews as possible and to retrieve by force territories which they wrongly believed to be theirs.  Hamas was a terrorist organization and denounced as such by most countries, including the United States, Canada and the countries of the European Union.  Hamas had to decide whether it was a terrorist organization, in which case it must be eradicated, or if it wanted to be part of the political process, in which case it had to be disarmed, agree to a dialogue with Israel, agree to the existence of Israel, and enter the mainstream democratic political movement within the Palestinian Authority.  It could not be democratic by day and carry out homicide bombings by night. 

Aside from a change in tone, was there anything specific he would like to see done by the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Secretary-General? another correspondent asked.

From his experience at the United Nations, sometimes expecting the United Nations not to do anything was expecting a lot, he said.  In a very positive way, many of the things that the United Nations today could not do would be perceived as positive and very encouraging, including the process of Israel bashing, ongoing resolutions and condemnations.  Beyond that, Israel would be very happy if the Secretary-General found it possible to support, in a statement, what was going on in Israel.  He knew that the Secretary-General supported it and had very high hopes for it. 

As far as the General Assembly and the Security Council were concerned, he said Israel was not seeking any resolutions dealing with the disengagement.  While Israel would be very happy if the Council found it possible to welcome and lend its support to the very historic Israeli move, it was not seeking such a resolution.

According to media reports, some of the soldiers had been unable to reach the settlements, a correspondent asked.  Was the Government going to count the 48 hours the settlers had to leave even if the settlers had not physically received a notice because soldiers had been unable to get there?  Also, would Israel dismantle the day-care centres, kindergartens and high schools?

Responding, he said the 48 hours as of midnight United States time, or 7 a.m. Israeli time, were inflexible.  Israel knew that there would be pockets of resistance and settlers who refused to be evacuated in a peaceful manner.  The Israeli army had been trained to deal with whatever happens.  There were cases in which brothers were forcing brothers to leave their homes.  While it was not an easy thing, it was a testimony to the democracy and rule of law that Israel exercised.  The soldiers were acting on the instructions of the Government.  The 48 hours would end at midnight between the 16 and 17 August, New York time.

As far as the destruction of houses, the houses were being destroyed with the understanding and at the request of the Palestinian Authority, he said.  There were many villas, and the Palestinians themselves were worried that if they remained they would used by corrupt elements within the Palestinian Authority who would rush to occupy them.  The Palestinian Authority thought it was better to build high-rise buildings for the thousands of Palestinians needing housing.  While synagogues would be destroyed, day centres, kindergartens and schools would be closed but not destroyed, so that the Palestinians could use them.  Hot houses would also not be destroyed, but transferred to the Palestinians, as they could provide instant employment and occupation. 

Asked how much the disengagement was costing Israel and how much was being underwritten by the international community, he said the cost of the disengagement was estimated at between $2 and $2.5 billion, or about 3.5 percent of total Israel State budget in 2005.  Most of the money would be borne by Israel.  A request had been made to the United States Government to bear some of that cost, as it was a strategic move with international ramifications. 

Given the fact that the withdrawal was taking place, did the Israeli Government consider the original decision to place 21 settlements in Gaza a mistake? a correspondent asked.

Responding, he said history had a way of making decisions which seemed right at the time.  The decision to have settlements had to be seen in a political perspective.  Israel had conquered territories in a serious war waged against it by the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967.  As a result of that war, which Israel had won against all odds, it had found itself in possession of territories in the Golan Heights, Jordan and the Gaza Strip.  Israel had never intended to be there, but found itself, as a result of defending itself, holding the territories.  Subsequent governments had decided that it would be prudent to have Jewish settlements to create a sort of buffer zone.  By definition, those settlements had to be guarded by Israeli army posts to ensure their safety.  Now, 38 years later and 29 years after taking down the first settlement, an Israeli Government, looking at the larger picture, had decided to remove them and grant the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip full autonomy and self-rule over their land.  History created changes in demography, topography and geography. 

Asked to describe the compensation the settlers would be given, he said the settlers would basically get the value of their homes.  Homes, property, factories and hot houses had been assessed.  Settlers would get the value of their home, plus a certain amount of compensation for having to leave their homes after many years, including a readjustment fee.  The amount of compensation depended on three factors, including the quality, price and the assessment of the property, the size of the family and whether that family was leaving on its free will.  There was a premium for the ones who agreed to leave, and there would be a bonus for those who left at the current stage.  There might be a penalty for the settlers who were forced to leave.

Asked how much the Israeli Government would save in the future because of the disengagement, he said the Government had not calculated the savings or financial benefits of disengagement.  It was, however, looking to the security, social and political benefits.  If everything worked as the Government believed it would, there would be cost benefits and Israel would need less troops and military bases.  Peace, beyond having a historic effect on the quality of life, would also have a dramatic effect of defence expenditure.

It was ironic, a correspondent noted, that Ariel Sharon, the man who had in the past championed the cause of settlement building, was now dismantling them.  He was also saying “ Gaza first, Gaza last”.  How set in stone was that position?

Responding, he said it was true that Mr. Sharon was considered the father of settlements and that he had been the Minister of Housing when many had been put there.  He believed very much in their historic and strategic importance for Israel.  He was also, however, the person who practically alone took the brave decision to disengage.  He had never heard Sharon say, “ Gaza first, Gaza last”.  Prime Minister Sharon was, while disengaging from Gaza, also disengaging from four settlements in the West Bank.  What he was saying, however, was that once the initiative was completed and a new reality dawned on the region, it would be much more conducive to negotiations. 

The final borders between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours must be negotiated in good faith between the two sides, he said.  Mr. Sharon was not prejudging the final borders, but was doing something very brave, unilaterally, as there had been no partner while Yasser Arafat was alive.  He hoped Mr. Abbas would be a more moderate partner, seemingly more responsible leadership, with whom future negotiations could take place.  Any borders, any final status agreement would be subject to negotiations between the two sides.

For information media • not an official record

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter