The Israeli Disengagement from Gaza

Image

By: Sarah L, Staff Writer

In 2005, towards the end of the Second Intifada, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to take a bold step in the hope that it would finally bring peace and allow for the creation of a Palestinian state. He decided to withdraw all Israeli civilians and military installations from the Gaza Strip.* This was one of the most divisive policy decisions in Israeli history.

Israel was left responsible for the Gaza Strip after the ceasefire at the end of the Six-Day War. Between 1967 and 2005, Israel controlled the territory militarily while Israeli civilians built settlements in several parts of the Strip; the largest and best known settlement bloc was called Gush Katif. By 2005, there were 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza, most of which specialized in agriculture, fish farming and various industries. The settlements also provided work to around 4,000 Gazan Palestinians.

Sharon hoped that by giving all this up, Israel would show its good faith desire for peace, hopefully prompting the Palestinians to reciprocate. Additionally, “the process of disengagement will serve to dispel claims regarding Israel's responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”1 In other words, Israel hoped that if it was no longer militarily involved in the Strip, and if no Israeli civilians are living there, then the world would no longer be able to hold Israel responsible for the Palestinian plight.

With American support, Israel proceeded on the path towards turning Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority. During the withdrawal, Israel donated $25 million to UN agencies for the purpose of developing infrastructure for the Palestinian population in Gaza and turned over 90% of greenhouses previously used by Israeli farmers. The agreement also stipulated that “Palestinians must undertake an immediate cessation of armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere.”2

Some other features of the agreement were:

  • The necessity of Gaza remaining demilitarized.
  • Israel’s willingness to train Palestinian security forces.
  • Israel’s transfer of civil infrastructure, such as water lines, electricity, etc. to the relevant Palestinian authorities.

The decision was extremely controversial. Many Israelis were opposed to the idea of giving up the Gaza settlements. Thousands arrived in the area to protest the evacuation, while some residents were forcibly evicted from their homes and communities after refusing to leave. Yet despite the opposition, the last Israeli soldier left the enclave on September 12, 2005, leaving the Palestinian Authority (PA) in charge.

The PA had been formed several years earlier during the Oslo Accords which, although they ultimately fell through, had offered the Palestinians a path to gradual independence. However, although endorsed by the international community, the Palestinian Authority enjoyed little support at home. Many Palestinians saw it as having betrayed their interests by cooperating with Israel. Groups like Hamas generally pulled more support with their uncompromising (although violent and impractical) promise of Palestinian “liberation.”

On January 26, 2006, Hamas won 44% of the vote in the first – and last – round of Palestinian elections ever held in Gaza. A Hamas-led government was sworn in a little over a month later, but the PA refused to take part. The next year and a half was characterized by violent infighting between Palestinian factions, but on June 15, 2007, Hamas took over for good and stamped out political resistance. Many members of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza were lynched or assassinated by Hamas.

Once Hamas took over, Israel tightened security around Gaza while the US and European states froze aid intended for Gaza. Over the next years, tensions waxed and waned between Palestinian parties and between Israel and the Palestinians. Multiple times Hamas and the PA announced that they had signed a new deal for cooperation and elections, but each time, despite popular support for such a move, the deal fell through.

In parallel, Hamas’ objective to destroy Israel became all too clear. After they took power, they proceeded to violate all the commitments made under the Disengagement, most notably the necessity to cease terrorist activity against Israelis. They also began to siphon humanitarian supplies and infrastructure for their own purposes, in opposition to the wellbeing of Gazans. In 2007, a Hamas terror cell kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.**

There have been five rounds of conflict between Israel and Hamas between 2007 and 2023. This includes the current war but does not include periods of violent rioting in Gaza against Israel or terrorist groups’ periodic rocket launches towards Israeli population centers which Israel did not respond to decisively.

Nearly 20 years have passed since Ariel Sharon handed over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. As Sharon hoped, Israel is no longer responsible for the Gaza Strip. However, this has not proved to benefit Israel, nor has it ended the blind accusations of Israeli “occupation” in the Strip. Israel’s withdrawal was in the end not beneficial for Palestinians either; not only did they lose the economic benefits of the Israeli presence in Gaza but they are now subject to a murderous and dictatorial regime which suppresses their human rights.

To those who continue to blame Israel for the “Palestinian plight”, look no further than the Israeli Disengagement from Gaza to see who is truly responsible.

*Israel also disengaged from a specific area of northern Samaria.
**Shalit was released in 2011 in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Bibliography:

1.“The “Sharon Plan” - Gaza Disengagement Table of Contents.” Www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-quot-sharon-plan-quot-gaza-disengagement. Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

2.“President Bush Letter on Peace Principles to Israeli PM Sharon (April 2004).” Www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/president-bush-letter-on-peace-principles-to-israeli-pm-sharon-april-2004.

Share this Post