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30 April 2005

Israel's Disengagement Plan - Renewing the peace process


Hope for the prospects of peace has revived in recent months. The death of Yasser Arafat and the election of his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, have fostered the expectation of a new era in relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Within this context, Israel's Disengagement Plan, introduced in December 2003, should be seen as an important step forward.

Ever since the 1967 Six Day War brought Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip under Israel's administration, their status has been in question. Israel was forced to wage that war in self-defense, and the disputed territories were held not as the object of conquest, but to be part of eventual negotiations for lasting peace.

Although Israel has historic ties, security needs and other vital interests that are directly connected to these disputed territories, it was never Israel's intention to rule over a large Palestinian population. Israel is ready as always to address the vital interests of the Palestinians in these areas. The goal is to reach a just settlement that would allow both peoples to live in genuine peace and security.

Israel demonstrated its willingness to trade land for peace in its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, when it gave back all of the Sinai Peninsula. This decision entailed painful sacrifices, including the dismantlement of the town of Yamit and the uprooting of all the Sinai settlements.

Today Israel is poised to disengage from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank, an initiative that will be the first practical test of the possibility for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinian Authority under the new leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. This bold move to end the stalemate in the peace process follows more than four years of terrorist bloodshed that have brought untold suffering to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Preparations for implementing the government's Disengagement Plan, which was endorsed by the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) in October 2004, received a welcome boost at the Sharm e-Sheikh Summit in February 2005. At the summit, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Chairman Abbas both declared an end to the violence and formally renewed the dialogue for peace.

The Disengagement Plan does not replace negotiations, but could make an important contribution to the renewal of peace talks as envisaged by the Roadmap sponsored by the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations -- provided, of course, that the PA eliminates the infrastructure of terrorism. It is Israel's view that the direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the final status will result in the establishment of full peaceful relations between Israel and a Palestinian state.

This plan of course entails risk, but it is an opportunity Israel feels is well worth taking. As Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom stated in an address before the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard on March 7, 2005:

" impact on a broad range of other issues of international concern, and we are committed to this task. We recognize that the effort to resolve our conflict with the Palestinians can have a positive task. We are prepared to take risks for peace."

Evolution of the Plan

The Disengagement Plan was approved by Israel’s cabinet on June 6, 2004 and by the Knesset on October 25, 2004, but it was introduced by Prime Minister Sharon on December 18, 2003, in a speech before the Fourth Herzliya Conference. He told the conference, which has become an annual "summit meeting" of the most influential Israeli and international leaders:

“Like all Israeli citizens, I yearn for peace. I attach supreme importance to taking all steps which will enable progress toward resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. However, in light of the other challenges we are faced with, if the Palestinians do not make a similar effort toward a solution of the conflict, I do not intend to wait for them indefinitely.”

Prime Minister Sharon presented the plan by recalling the Roadmap, whose acceptance he had announced at the previous year’s Herzliya Conference:

“The Roadmap is the only political plan accepted by Israel, the Palestinians, the Americans and a majority of the international community. We are willing to proceed toward its implementation: two states - Israel and a Palestinian state - living side by side in tranquility, security, and peace.”

He noted that an essential condition of the Roadmap is its requirement that terrorism must stop and the terrorist organizations be dismantled.

“The concept behind this plan is that only security will lead to peace - and in that sequence. Without the achievement of full security - within the framework of which terrorist organizations will be dismantled - it will not be possible to achieve genuine peace, a peace for generations.”

The Prime Minister called on the Palestinians to meet the challenge of peaceful coexistence:

“We would like you to govern yourselves in your own country: a democratic Palestinian state with territorial contiguity in Judea and Samaria and economic viability, which would conduct normal relations of tranquility, security, and peace with Israel… We hope that the Palestinian Authority will carry out its part. However, if in a few months the Palestinians still continue to disregard their part in implementing the Roadmap, then Israel will initiate the unilateral security step of disengagement from the Palestinians.”

Disengagement has two main purposes, Sharon said: enhancing Israel’s security by reducing terrorism and boosting Israel’s economy by improving the quality of life.

“We are interested in conducting direct negotiations, but do not intend to hold Israeli society hostage in the hands of the Palestinians. I have already said: We will not wait for them indefinitely.”

As Sharon noted,

“The Disengagement Plan does not prevent the implementation of the Roadmap. Rather, it is a step Israel will take in the absence of any other option, in order to improve its security. The Disengagement Plan will be realized only in the event that the Palestinians continue to drag their feet and postpone implementation of the Roadmap.”

Today there is renewed optimism that the Disengagement Plan will succeed to advance peace efforts where previous attempts have failed. The demise of Arafat and the election of Mahmoud Abbas as PA Chairman have opened the possibility of coordinating key aspects of the plan with the Palestinian side. The renewed dialogue and coordination between Israel and the PA, together with Palestinian steps to end terrorism and dismantle its infrastructure, will hopefully enable an orderly transition of security responsibility and ensure that the Disengagement Plan's implementation does indeed improve conditions on the ground, serving as a platform for renewed negotiations between the sides.

Key Provisions of the Disengagement Plan

The following provisions were approved by the Israeli cabinet on June 6, 2004. Some of the details have been modified in accordance with contacts between Israel and relevant parties, including Egypt, the World Bank, and others.

The Jewish towns and villages to be evacuated are to be classified into four groups:

Israel will evacuate the Gaza Strip and will redeploy outside the Strip. This evacuation will not include military deployment in the border area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt ("the Philadelphi Route"), an area known for its arms-smuggling tunnels.

Israel will evacuate the above-mentioned settlements in northern Samaria (West Bank) and all military installations in this area. This move will enable territorial contiguity for Palestinians in the area.

Israel will assist, together with the international community, in improving the transportation infrastructure in the West Bank in order to facilitate the contiguity of Palestinian transportation and facilitate normal Palestinian economic activity in the West Bank.

Israel will continue building the anti-terrorist security fence. The route will take into account humanitarian considerations, in accordance with rulings by Israel's Supreme Court.

Security measures following disengagement:

The Gaza Strip

Israel will guard the perimeter of the Gaza Strip, continue to control Gaza air space, and continue to patrol the sea off the Gaza coast.

The Gaza Strip shall be demilitarized and devoid of weaponry which is not in accordance with the Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Israel reserves its fundamental right of self-defense, both preventive and reactive.

The West Bank

After the evacuation of the northern Samaria area, no permanent Israeli military presence will remain in the area. Israel reserves its fundamental right of self-defense, both preventive and reactive.

In other areas of the West Bank, ongoing security activity will continue as circumstances require.

Israel will work to reduce the number of checkpoints throughout the West Bank.

Security Assistance to the Palestinians

Border Area Between the Gaza Strip and Egypt
Real Estate Assets
Civil Infrastructure and Arrangements
Economic Arrangements
Compensation for Settlers


The goal of the plan is to break the current deadlock by removing the too-often lethal friction between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, thereby improving the situation. If and when the Palestinian side demonstrates its willingness to cease terrorism and institute reforms as required by the Roadmap, the dialogue for peace can resume.


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