Gaza Disengagement

The history and politics of the decision to disengage

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The religious Zionist movement began to make the idea of Eretz Yisrael (the biblical land of Israel as opposed to the state of Israel) much more of a central focus of its mainstream ideology. With the energy of the traditional kibbutz movement fading, the religious Zionist movement emerged as the new face of settlement. The ascension of Likud, a party with deep Revisionist roots, launched this ideology into the general mainstream. The popularity of the idea of settling the land, coupled with the strategic desire to be able to control and defend it, led to the increased creation of settlements in these new areas that had been started by Labor. While not all settlers were from the Religious Zionist movement, this group certainly made up the greatest number.

Getting Out of Gaza

When the Israeli government made its decision to disengage from Gaza, Gaza was home to over 1,324,991 people. Roughly 99.4% of the population was Palestinian and 0.06% was Jewish. Forty-nine percent of the population there was 14 and under. The birth rate was 40.62 births/1,000 population with a fertility rate of 6.04 children born/woman. Demographically, Gaza was a challenging place for any authority to administer.

Immediately after the capture of Gaza, Israel took over administration of the territory. During the 1978 Camp David negotiations with Egypt, there was an attempt to come to terms with the needs of the Palestinians in Gaza and establish some form of Palestinian self-rule. However, this aspect of the Camp David Accords was never implemented. Under the Oslo Accords, agreed upon in 1993, the newly established Palestinian Authority was granted a considerable degree of autonomy. Oslo provisions fell far short of complete disengagement, however, and were largely ineffective as Oslo slowly and painfully deteriorated.

The precedent for withdrawal came several years after Oslo. In 1999, Prime Minister Ehud Barak promised to withdraw from Lebanon within a year. Though Barak favored a "Land for Peace" policy, he was unable to find a partner for peace and opted, instead, for a unilateral withdrawal. Though this move was not coordinated with the United Nations, the international body eventually declared that Israel had fulfilled its U.N. commitment to leave Lebanon. Aside from Hezbollah claims that Shebaa Farms in the Golan is Lebanese territory, most of the world agrees that Israel has completely withdrawn from Lebanon, a reality that has weakened Hezbollah's political strength locally and abroad.

Ironically, Sharon’s implementation of the disengagement looked quite similar to what was proposed by his opponent, Amram Mitzna, who led Labor in an unsuccessful bid against Sharon in January 2003. Mitzna stated "…separation, separating ourselves from the Palestinians is the key to understanding my approach. Either it will be by an agreement that will lead to political borders between the two entities or by a unilateral approach. Without an agreement Israel is ready to withdraw to the 1967 borders, leaving some blocs of heavily populated Jewish settlements."  Mitzna even went as far as saying there was a need "…to make very deep and very painful concessions…"   Sharon marshaled opposition to this platform and crushed the Labor party in national elections.

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Noah M. Levine received a Master's Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University's School of International & Public Affairs. His focus was in Security Policy and the Middle East. Prior to this, Noah spent several years living and working in the Middle East.