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Explaining Sharon's plan: The essence of the withdrawal

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is determined to evacuate approximately 8,000 Jewish settlers from 21 heavily-fortified enclaves/settlements in the Gaza Strip, which Israel has built up since occupying the Arab territories during 1966 six day war. This will also include the withdrawal of the large numbers of Israeli troops who are currently guarding the settlements, which are constantly under fire and attacks from armed Palestinian groups, militias and civilians in the Gaza trip. Mr. Sharon explained to the Israeli government, as well as to thousands of protesters in the streets of Jerusalem that the withdrawal is the best way to reach and achieve total security for the Israelis in the absence of meaningful peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians who are a major key player in frequent Palestinian Intifadah movement in Gaza and neighboring areas. The withdrawal will be regionally large, however the Israeli forces will keep complete control of Gaza's land and sea borders and airspace. The Israeli forces will also maintain the capability and legal right to renter Palestinian territory when they want.

The withdrawal will include four isolated Jewish settlements to be evacuated in the northern West Bank, but Israel will cement its grip on dozens of other settlements there. Mr. Sharon made it clear to the Israeli people and his political opponents that under a separate initiative, most Palestinian residents will be enclosed behind Israel's West Bank barrier. It will be the first time Israel has remove state-sanctioned settlements since it gave the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt in 1982.

What dilemma does Sharon face?

Mr. Sharon's own Likud party has twice rejected his withdrawal plan, but the Prime Minister has pledged to soldier on, because Israelis in general support his plan, which has been already approved by the Israeli Cabinet, although some right-wing, pro-settler ministers resigned in protest. The next stage is for the plan to be presented to the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, on 25 October, with MKs to debate and vote on the plan in principle the following day. Although he has lost his majority in the Knesset - because of pro-settler dissent - and faces a rebellion in his own party, Mr. Sharon is still expected to win. Foreign observers believe that The Israeli Prime Minister can count on the opposition Labor party for support and the anti-religious Shinui party which has stayed in the coalition.

If the vote is passed will the plan go ahead?

Not necessarily. The evacuations are to be carried out in phases, and - under a deal with skeptical ministers - each phase will require approval with a cabinet vote. Meanwhile, Mr. Sharon faces the specter of the possible collapse of his government. To regain his parliamentary majority, Mr. Sharon will try to bring Labor - or possibly another religious party like Shas - into government. However, Likud leaders have ruled out a deal with Labor and Shinui would refuse to co-habit with Shas. Without a solid parliamentary majority, the biggest hurdle for Mr. Sharon might be getting next year's budget through the Knesset. Fresh elections would mean the whole disengagement plan would be put on ice.

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