Former chief of staff: Ariel Sharon designed Gaza disengagement to save West Bank settlements

Former US President George W. Bush promised Sharon that the settlement blocs would be included within Israel’s final borders after revealing the Gaza disengagement plan, says Dov Weisglass.

A woman prays during the evacuation of Gush Katif in 2005. (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE/RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A woman prays during the evacuation of Gush Katif in 2005.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza in 2005 to save the West Bank settlement blocs and to improve Israel’s security, Dov Weisglass, a close confidante of Sharon and his former chief of staff, said at an event to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Gaza disengagement.
Weisglass attempted to explain to the audience of a seminar that was held Thursday at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya how it was that Ariel Sharon, known as the father of the settlement movement, decided to pull out of Gaza, a move that led to the destruction of 21 settlements there.
At the time, Sharon held a stormy meeting with settler leaders in which he explained to them that the dream of a Greater Israel, in which Israel held on to all of the West Bank and Gaza, was no longer possible.
“We have lost this battle,” Sharon told them, “but if you let me work, I will save the settlement blocs [in the West Bank], where 80 percent of the population lives – and if you continue to obstruct this, we will lose even this,” recalled Weisglass.
Weisglass referred to an April 2004 letter by former US president George Bush, where he pledged that in exchange for pulling out of Gaza, Palestinian refugees would not return to Israel but rather to their newly established state in any final-status agreement for a two-state solution.
In that same letter, Bush promised Sharon that the West Bank settlement blocs would be included within Israel’s final borders, he said.
In that letter, Bush wrote, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”
Weisglass stressed that as a result of the Gaza pullout, the US and the world recognized Israel’s right to the settlement blocs.
“We came to a clear understanding with them. Since the US president saw that this territory was Israeli territory, we have build thousands of units in Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim.”
This understanding, he added, was the “single biggest diplomatic achievement since 1948.”
Since then, Weisglass said, all the diplomatic gains Sharon made for Israel within the framework of the disengagement have since been lost.
The former prime minister, his adviser said, formulated the disengagement plan after he understood that the international community did not recognize Israel’s territorial claims over the pre-1967 lines.
“Sharon told me that anyone who believes the occupation can continue forever is wrong. Anyone who thinks we can hold under occupation millions of Palestinians is making a serious mistake,” Weisglass said.
When Sharon first formulated the disengagement plan in the fall of 2003, Yasser Arafat was the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
Sharon believed he was one of Israel’s worst enemies and refused to negotiate with him, Weisglass said, but after Mahmoud Abbas became president in 2004, the “disengagement was done in full coordination with the Palestinians.
All the moves were executed in total coordination with Abu Mazen,” Weisglass said, referring to Abbas.
As for the Hamas takeover of Gaza after the disengagement, Weisglass said it was “the most difficult moment for me. It was totally unexpected.”