Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Disengagement: Reality or Illusion?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Disengagement: Reality or Illusion?

Article excerpt

Disengagement-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's much-touted plan to evacuate Gaza-is a word one hears constantly. Some dismiss it as another Israeli ploy; others talk as if it's a fond hope. Still, until the third week of April, many thought it likely that the 8,000 Israeli settlers who monopolize much of the best land in the tiny Gaza Strip really would begin leaving for new homes on July 17.

Although the Israeli occupation force (IOF) is building massive new checkpoints inside Gaza, and although trucks, bulldozers, and tanks still trundle around the Israeli settlements day and night, Gazans knew this could be typical Israeli obfuscation meant to confuse the settlers who oppose the plan as much as to confuse the Palestinians. Indeed, many Gaza residents have been anticipating curfews and border closures to help ensure an orderly exit. And the disengagement plan even had a start date-never mind that, as Israeli writer Tanya Reinhart pointed out, not a shekel of promised compensation had been paid to the settlers, or that nobody knew just where the settlers would be relocated.

Then, on April 19, the Israeli government decided to "consider" a three-week delay, lest the evacuation coincide with Tisha B'av, a period of mourning for the destruction of the two ancient Temples of Jerusalem. This year Tisha B'av falls from July 20 through Aug. 14, so the withdrawal could begin Aug. 15. But that, government sources pointed out, would interfere with the start of the school year on Sept. 1. Of course, the ultra-religious want to scuttle the plan entirely. Labor Party members, and other centrists and leftists in the government, called any waffling a "trap," and "a serious mistake" that will only strengthen the far-right opposition. The whole point of evacuating the Gaza settlers, plus four Jewish settlements in the northern West Bank, is to ease international pressure on Israel to cede all the illegal West Bank settlements. …

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