Israeli flag hangs off pole in Migron 370 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is hard to believe that serious politicians are once again talking about
unilateral steps. Ehud Barak said that we should consider another unilateral
withdrawal because we can’t negotiate with the Palestinians. Naftali Bennett
says we should unilaterally annex Area C – more than 60 percent of the West
Bank. Yoaz Hendel, a former senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office, says
we should unilaterally annex the settlement blocs.
Great. Brilliant. And
then what? Please tell us. Didn’t we unilaterally withdrawal from Gaza? What did
we get in return? Hamas. Yes, we had to get out of Gaza. Leaving was the right
thing to do. We had no future occupying Gaza against the will of more than 1.5
million Palestinians, most of them refugees.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
initiated the Israeli disengagement from Gaza to deflect increasing
international attention from the non-official Geneva agreement reached by former
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
The Geneva agreement proved that it
was possible to reach agreement with the Palestinians on all of the issues in
conflict. The Geneva negotiators included former senior military and
intelligence people including a former chief of staff, and it was gaining wide
public support throughout Israel’s mainstream.
Governments around the
world were adding their support and even in the White House and the State
Department there were words of praise for the agreement. That made Sharon
nervous because he was not prepared to adopt the Geneva formula and withdraw
from the West Bank, in which a Palestinian state would be established next to
Sharon came up with the idea of disengagement, and he was
correct: it did take all international attention away from Geneva. The
international community would seriously weigh in and the Quartet would send a
special envoy and the whole world would focus on the miraculous event of General
Ariel Sharon uprooting settlements in Gaza. Imagine that – the father of the
settlement movement becomes the man who would uproot them from Gaza.
international community allowed itself to imagine that Gaza would be the first
step to be followed by additional withdrawals and settlement removal from the
West Bank. But Sharon was playing a different game, and never exposed his
In response to Sharon’s decision to unilaterally withdrawal from
Gaza the Palestinians created a disengagement executive. They put then-Gaza
strong man Mohammed Dahlan in charge of the project. Dahlan created some 10
committees to plan for the Palestinian takeover of Gaza, believing that they
would work in cooperation with similar committees established in Israel.
Dahlan’s committees got to work diligently with international
Mahmoud Abbas pleaded to Sharon to coordinate the
disengagement and to negotiate the proper transfer of the area to the PLO. With
his usual sarcastic wit, Sharon’s response was: “Abbas is a chick with no
feathers.” He told the Americans and James Wolfensohn, the former president of
the World Bank and special envoy for the disengagement process, that Abbas was
not a partner.
Sharon was warned that if he did not properly coordinate
the disengagement and work with Abbas and the PLO, the more extreme groups in
Gaza would be empowered.
He didn’t seem to care.
I personally went
to one of Sharon’s closest advisers and political allies and begged him to
convince Sharon to work with Abbas on the disengagement. He told me if I joined
the newly formed Kadima it would increase the chances Sharon would listen to me.
I joined Kadima and still Sharon refused to listen. He then told me to forget
He told me Sharon believed that after the transfer of Gaza to the
Palestinians, they would fail in governing Gaza and international pressure on
Israel regarding the West Bank would be removed. How cunning.
Wolfensohn and his team worked overtime to try and ensure success. Wolfensohn
even raised some $15 million to purchase the very successful agriculture
greenhouses from the Gush Katif settlers. There were about 500 hectares (some
1,235 acres) of greenhouses there prior to the disengagement. The settlers
damaged about 50 hectares when they left. Palestinian vandals damaged about
another 50 hectares before the Palestinian police intervened and stopped them.
Some 400 hectares were left.
The Palestinian Authority created a
management company and the same workers who worked for the settlers continued to
work for the management company. The company went bankrupt after its first
season. Why? Because after the withdrawal from Gaza, Israel closed the border
and the produce rotted before going to market.
This was before Hamas was
During the same period the Americans demanded that Israel sign
the negotiated agreements on the Rafah crossing and Movement and Access in
November 2005, but during the first 100 days after signing the agreements the
border crossing was open only 17 days.
The successful Israeli
disengagement from Gaza led to the successful Hamas takeover of Gaza. Who won
the narrative on the Palestinian side of what led to Israel’s decision to
withdrawal? Diplomacy and negotiations or the gun, the bombs and the armed
struggle? Hamas won the narrative and it empowered them against the failures of
the diplomatic process. The Palestinian street said: Israelis only understand
the language of violence. The end result was obvious to anyone who understood
anything about the Palestinian street and Palestinian politics.
everyone that the proposals of Barak, Bennett and Hendel would be even more
disastrous for Israel then the disengagement from Gaza. There is a way to end
the conflict with the Palestinians. It is called negotiations.
it has been tried before and we have not yet reached an agreement for peace.
That does not mean that it is not possible. Those historians who tell us the
past proves the future actually have no more knowledge of the future than anyone
else. Their argument against negotiating a permanent-status agreement has no
Yes, it will be difficult, but it is not
Those who propose a long-term interim agreement, please
explain what exactly have we had until now? We have had a 20-year interim
agreement that was initially intended to be for five years only. There is no
room and no time for another interim agreement. The time has come for the
leaders to make decisions on the core issues. Negotiations can be successful,
but it means making a decision that we will remain in negotiations, intensively,
with dedication, commitment and political will to reach agreement with the other
side. Negotiating with goodwill and integrity means that we do not walk out of
negotiations after we tell the other side “this is the best offer you will get –
take it or leave it” as we did in Camp David in 2000 and Olmert did in
We will not be able to protect Israel’s long-term interests by
making unilateral moves, but rather via a negotiated agreement on two states for
two peoples, putting an end to the conflict.The author is the
co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information,
a columnist for
The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the
secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.