For some the move was unjust and a major tactical blunder. For others it was an important step toward the implementation of a two-state solution.

Regardless of whether one supported or opposed the 2005 Gaza disengagement carried out by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, a unilateral withdrawal from “disputed” territories remains a relevant option to this day.

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Politicians from across the political spectrum – many with strong military backgrounds – support some form of a unilateral pullout. Labor’s Omer Bar-Lev, a former commander of the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit and of the Jordan Valley Brigade, does. So does Likud’s Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Organizations like Blue and White Future, founded by former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, are pushing for a unilateral withdrawal as are many members of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, such as former head of Military Intelligence Amos Gilad and Gilead Sher, head of the INSS’s Center for Applied Negotiations. Former prime minister Ehud Barak voiced reserved support for a unilateral pullout in 2012.

The reasoning behind a unilateral pullout is eminently simple. To maintain a strong Jewish majority and prevent the creation of a binational state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, Israel must relinquish control over the West Bank, at the very least in places where there are large concentrations of Palestinian populations.

A negotiated peace agreement, while preferable, seems out of reach. As Sharon noted in an April 2004 letter to then-US president George W. Bush, “there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement.” And many believe Sharon’s nearly decade-old diagnosis is still true. With Palestinian leadership split and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas facing opposition to negotiations even within his own Fatah party, Israel’s only option is a unilateral pullout.

Those promoting a Jewish and democratic Israel rightly feel that time is not on their side and that they cannot afford to wait until a united and popular Palestinian leadership is ready to make peace. Therefore, while it is not the ideal solution, the only real option that remains is a unilateral pullout.

Obviously, there are major problems with unilateral actions. As was the case in the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon and the 2005 disengagement, these moves tend to strengthen the extremists by vindicating terror.

Unilateral pullouts have in the past been interpreted as acts of capitulation resulting from unrelenting terrorist attacks. As a result, they have the effect of encouraging yet more terrorism. It was no coincidence that Hamas’s sweeping victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections followed immediately after the 2005 disengagement from Gaza.

Also, without a negotiated resolution of the conflict, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to convince Israelis to agree to painful territorial concessions. The evacuation of the Jewish communities in Gush Katif and North Samaria was incredibly traumatic and it was made all the more so by the knowledge that these gut-wrenching losses would not lead to peace.

Then there was the abominable treatment of the evacuees. According to a 2013 article published in the Israel Medical Association Journal, male evacuees suffer significantly higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure compared to the general public. The researchers said that the cause of these diseases was the high levels of unemployment, depression and stress suffered by these evacuees. If the government had prepared better, the transition could have been made smoother. This lesson is pertinent for supporters of both a unilateral and a negotiated two-state solution, both of which would, most likely, involve the evacuation of settlements.

Ideally, Israel should reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. However, if this proves to be impossible due to Palestinian intransigence and unreliability, unilateral options like the ones implemented by Sharon in Gaza in 2005 might become increasingly relevant once again. Learning from the mistakes made in the Gaza disengagement are an essential element of any future unilateral measure.

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