Israel's Disengagement Plan: Renewing the Peace Process

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 contention. 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:

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

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.

Prime Minister Sharon presents the Disengagement Plan to the Knesset
(GPO / Amos Ben Gershon)

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:

Group A - Morag, Netzarim, and Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip

Group B - the villages of Ganim, Kadim, Sa-Nur, and Homesh in northern Samaria

Group C - the towns and villages of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip

Group D - the villages of the northern Gaza Strip (Elei Sinai, Dugit, and Nissanit)

- 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
Israel agrees to coordinate assistance and training for the Palestinian security forces by American, British, Egyptian, Jordanian, or other experts in an effort to combat terrorism and maintain public order.

- Border Area Between the Gaza Strip and Egypt
Israel will continue to maintain its essential military presence to prevent arms smuggling along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (Philadelphi Route), until the security situation and cooperation with Egypt permit an alternative security arrangement.

- Ports
Israel will consider the establishment of a seaport and airport in the Gaza Strip, in accordance with arrangements to be agreed upon.

- Real Estate Assets
Israel will aspire to transfer industrial, commercial, and agricultural facilities to an international party that will put them to use for the benefit of the Palestinian population. A final decision will be taken regarding the disposition of Israeli residences.
In particular, the Erez industrial zone will be transferred to the responsibility of an agreed upon Palestinian or international party.
Israel will explore, together with Egypt, the possibility of establishing a joint industrial zone on the border of the Gaza Strip, Egypt, and Israel.

- Civil Infrastructure and Arrangements
The infrastructure for water, electricity, sewage, and telecommunications will remain in place. Israel will continue to sell electricity, water, gas, and fuel to the Palestinians.

- Economic Arrangements
The economic arrangements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority shall remain in force. These include, inter alia: the passage of goods among the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Israel, and abroad; the monetary regime; tax and customs arrangements; postal and telecommunications arrangements; the entry of workers into Israel.
In line with Israel’s interest in encouraging greater Palestinian economic independence, it expects to eventually end the employment of Palestinian workers in Israel. Israel supports the international development of sources of employment in the Gaza Strip and in Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

- Compensation for Settlers
An Inter-ministerial Committee on Relocation, Compensation, and Alternative Settlement will prepare legislation regarding relocation and 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.

(Koret Communications Ltd.)

The Sharm e-Sheikh Summit(February 8, 2005)

Israel’s Disengagement Plan was endorsed by Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority at a summit meeting with Israel at Sharm e-Sheikh on February 8, 2005. At the summit, Prime Minister Sharon and PA Chairman Abbas declared a cease-fire, formally ending more than four years of violence and terrorism.

Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Abbas at Sharm e-Sheikh
(GPO / Avi Ohayon)

Beyond the cease-fire, Sharon and Abbas agreed on a process of transferring security responsibility for Palestinian areas even before the implementation of the Disengagement Plan. Israel would also initiate a series of other confidence-building measures, including the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and agreement to the construction of a sea port in Gaza. Israel’s wish, said Sharon, is “to conduct a genuine and honest dialogue in order to transform these first steps into a sound basis for the foundation of our relations.”

The Prime Minister told the summit’s host, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, and Abbas of his determination to carry out the Disengagement Plan:

“The Disengagement Plan was initiated by a unilateral decision. Now, if new change does emerge on the Palestinian side, the disengagement can bring hope and become the new starting point for a coordinated, successful process. ”

“The Disengagement Plan can pave the way to implementation of the Roadmap, to which we are committed and which we want to implement. We are prepared to actively fulfill all our obligations, and expect the other side to carry out all its obligations. Only actions and not words - this is the only way to attain the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and tranquility...”

Addressing the Palestinian people, Sharon said:

“You, too, must prove that you have the strength and the courage to compromise, abandon unrealistic dreams, subdue the forces which oppose peace, and live in peace and mutual respect side-by-side with us…” And to the citizens of Israel, Sharon said:

“We have passed difficult years, faced the most painful experiences and overcame them. The future lies before us. We are required to take difficult and controversial steps, but we must not miss the opportunity to try to achieve what we have wished for, for so many years: security, tranquility, and peace.”

Prime Minister Sharon together with President Mubarak, King Abdullah and Chairman Abbas (GPO / Avi Ohayon)

The Costs of Disengagement

On February 16, 2005, the Knesset passed the final version of the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, providing NIS 3.8 billion ($884 million) to pay for the relocation of some 9,000 Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank and to compensate them for the loss of their homes and livelihoods. On February 20, the cabinet voted to implement the plan.

The democratic process of passing the Disengagement Law was a stormy one, marked by weeks of vocal opposition and public demonstrations by the settler lobby and their supporters against the very idea of disengagement. These protests reflected the understandable reluctance of people to leave their homes - many of which they moved into as young pioneers and are about to leave as grandparents. There were also counterdemonstrations by supporters of the government’s decision, which opinion polls repeatedly had shown reflected a national consensus of approximately 70 percent in favor of disengagement.


(GPO / Avi Ohayon)

(GPO / Amos Ben Gershon)

Some of the settlers have already accepted the fact that, just as they had once answered the government’s call to build their homes in the territories, they are now being called upon to yield these territories to advance the cause of peace. Many of these settlers plan to channel their pioneering spirit into building new homes in the Negev and Galilee. Hopefully, the remainder will come to realize that despite the trauma they are going through - one which the Government of Israel is determined to alleviate as much as possible - their sacrifice will benefit the country as a whole and will ultimately enhance the chances for peace and security.

What is being given up: homes at one of the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip (GPO / Amos Ben Gershon)

Reason to Hope

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has dragged both peoples through more than a century of violence and terrorism. It has formed the core of a much larger Arab-Israeli conflict that has manifested itself in recurrent wars. The Disengagement Plan is an effort to put all this behind us.

As Foreign Minister Shalom told the 2004 Herzliya Conference:

“We are standing on the threshold of a new era, an era of hope, which may lead us to the end of the conflict. I hope that the Palestinian Authority, the leaders of the Arab states and the international community understand the magnitude of the hour and rise to the occasion.”

In Prime Minister Sharon’s concluding words at the Sharm e-Sheikh Summit:

“Together we can build a dam against the radical forces of yesterday, which threaten to carry us all into a whirlpool of blood and hatred. Together, we can promote relations between us and ignite a first ray of hope for all the people of the Middle East. Together, we can ensure our peoples lives of freedom and stability, prosperity and peace.”

Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families gather together in a call for peace
(Photo courtesy of Parents Circle - Families Forum / Mashka Litvak)

Young faces of hope
(GPO / Moshe Neyman)



Excerpt from an Address by Foreign Minister Shalom to the Israel-British Chamber of Commerce (February 2, 2005)

...This is a time of renewed hope and optimism in our region. The elections in Iraq and in the PA, together with the determined leadership of the United States, offer the prospect of a real and positive shift in the region's dynamics, towards greater democracy, greater accountability, greater freedom and greater prosperity. These developments pose a direct challenge to the forces of extremism - led by Iran, Syria and of course al-Qaida - which seek to undermine all possibility of progress towards peace and stability.

In the Palestinian context, the demise of Arafat and the election of Abu Mazen offer us a window of opportunity which must be seized, in order to bring an end to terrorism, and the beginning of real and positive change. Abu Mazen has been given a clear mandate for such change. With his election, the age of Palestinian excuses has come to an end.

The Palestinian leader has at his disposal the means to stop the attacks on Israel's civilians and communities. What he needs to show us - and to show his own people - is that he has the will to use them to bring Palestinian terror to an end. Israel is ready to work together with the Palestinian leadership in order to improve the security and wellbeing of our peoples, on the way to a lasting peace between us.

We accept the Roadmap and we are ready to implement it, in accordance with its performance-based structure and sequence. We are also ready to coordinate key aspects of the disengagement plan with the Palestinian side. We will act to ensure that constructive Palestinian steps are reciprocated. 

Indeed, if security conditions allow, Israel will transfer security control of key Palestinian towns in the coming days. We are already acting to ease conditions for the Palestinians, by opening border crossings, facilitating the transfer of funds, and so on. We also recognize the central importance of the economic dimension, and we are actively encouraging the international community to mobilize resources to help rehabilitate the Palestinian economy. In this context, we welcome the interest of the private sector in promoting business and investment opportunities in the PA.

All these issues will be discussed in the Summit to be held this coming Tuesday in Sharm-el-Sheikh between Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Mubarak and King Abdullah. This summit is of critical importance to the future of our peace efforts. Its purpose is to address the issues head-on, not just to have another photo-opportunity.

The real test is the test of actions, not of declarations; the test of outcomes, not ceremonies. We must remember: progress towards peace will not be possible without consistent and effective Palestinian action on the ground to end the terror against Israel’s civilians, as required by the Roadmap.

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