by Robert Klein & Gila Ansell-Brauner
The Israeli Disengagement Plan emerged from a political and a diplomatic context that can be best summarised as follows:
The letter outlines the factors behind PM Sharon's decision to design and implement the Disengagement Plan:
“The Palestinian Authority under its current leadership has taken no action to meet its responsibilities under the Roadmap. Terror has not ceased, reform of the Palestinian security services has not been undertaken, and real institutional reforms have not taken place. The State of Israel continues to pay the heavy cost of constant terror. Israel must preserve its capability to protect itself and deter its enemies, and we thus retain our right to defend ourselves against terrorism and to take actions against terrorist organizations.
“Having reached the conclusion that, for the time being, there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement and since the current impasse is unhelpful to the achievement of our shared goals [i.e. two-states coexisting side-by-side -Ed.], I have decided to initiate a process of gradual disengagement with the hope of reducing friction between Israelis and Palestinians. The Disengagement Plan is designed to improve security for Israel and stabilize our political and economic situation. It will enable us to deploy our forces more effectively until such time that conditions in the Palestinian Authority allow for the full implementation of the Roadmap to resume.”
Exercise: What were they?
Eight months after the publication of the letter to President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon introduced a number of other factors, not mentioned in his letter to President Bush:
“Disengagement recognizes the demographic reality on the ground - specifically, bravely and honestly. Of course it is clear to everyone that we will not be in the Gaza Strip in the final agreement. This recognition, that we will not be in Gaza, and that, even now, we have no reason to be there, does not divide the people and is not tearing us apart, as the opposing minority claim. Rather, the opposite is true. Disengagement from the Gaza Strip is uniting the people. It is uniting us in distinguishing between goals which deserve to be fought for, since they are truly in our souls - such as Jerusalem, the large settlement blocs, the security zones and maintaining Israel's character as a Jewish state - rather than goals where it is clear to all of us that they will not be realized, and that most of the public is not ready, justifiably, to sacrifice so much for. “One of the goals of Arab terror was to divide the country and break its spirit. Stopping terror on the one hand, and the Disengagement Plan on the other, a plan which the great majority of the public supports, forges national unity and creates broad national consensus regarding the justness of our struggle for security, tranquility and peace.
“The initiative of disengagement has produced a long list of political accomplishments. Because of it, the Palestinians have no excuse not to abandon terror. Because of it, there is no criticism of Israel's determined actions against terror. Now it is clear to everyone that when Israel declares its willingness to make painful compromises, it indeed intends to make genuine and painful compromises. Very painful.
“Israel's international standing has improved immeasurably. The most important accomplishment is the understandings between U.S. President George Bush and me, which provide a new, more stable basis than ever before for the strategic understandings between Israel and the United States. This week, we heard President Bush repeat his support for these understandings.
On the face of it, the factors mentioned by Prime Minister Sharon in both his letter to President Bush and his Herzliya speech most probably were - each to a greater or lesser extent - amongst the motivating factors.
Exercise: List the factors that appear in this speech.
In addition to the twelve factors already mentioned, there are at least three other interpretations as to what factors led to the formulation of the Disengagement Plan which have been proffered in various forums. They are:
Prime Minister Sharon did not wish to take this to a national referendum and opted to vote on it in the Likud party in May 2004, where he believed it would carry a definite majority, but to his dismay, the party membership voted against the plan (56%). This led him to seek a formula or amended version* which would be acceptable to the Likud members of the Cabinet and to inform other Ministers that they would be fired, if they did not vote with the Government (June 2004)
Not only were two Ichud Leumi (National Union) ministers sacked, but two Mafdal (NRP) ministers resigned and PM Sharon was left with a minority government that had little chance of long-term survival. From this point, the Plan was combined into a proposed Bill that addressed provisions for both the military and civilian withdrawal and relocation of residents of all the communities in the Gaza Strip/northern Samaria.
The Israeli Cabinet approved what became known as the Compensation-Evacuation Bill in June 2004
The Law eventually passed on 25th October 2004, with the support of the Labor Party from the benches of the Opposition.
The Knesset Vote – How & Why
The Government Center-Right Likud Party split its vote, 23 for and 17 against;
With a weak, minority Government, the fate of the law became uncertain, particularly after Shinui resigned on issues of social reform and budget; it was essential that the government be widened to include other parties, despite internal Likud opposition to the Labor Party. Labor later joined the Government in order to ensure that the Disengagement process would not be shelved. Nevertheless, there was not a majority to support the 2005 Budget and the budget vote was delayed until the end of March.
The Israeli political right came out in strong opposition and heightened the public campaign to prevent Disengagement, or – at least - impede its process (protest, demonstrations, Referendum Law, questioning governmental process and legitimacy, claims about repression of free speech, delegitimation of opposition).
The diplomatic context changed somewhat with the death of Yassir Arafat and new hopes for more peaceful times, law and order, cooperation and coordination with the PA around Disengagement. This led to the Sharm-el-Sheikh conference in February 2005, but its immediate outcomes were limited, as were progress towards democratic reform and improvement in law enforcement in the PA.
While many Likud MKs joined the campaign for a Referendum, the Israeli Labor Party made it clear that they would withdraw if the Referendum bill were to pass its first Knesset reading; the Israeli government garnered the necessary support and the Referendum bill did not pass its first Knesset reading in March 2004. The budget passed at the end of March and the government survived.