This week Israel disengages from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. Israel hopes this move will lead to a more stable, less violent reality with its Palestinian neighbors.
This week Israel disengages from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, ending its 38-year civilian presence and military rule there. Israel hopes this move will lead to a more stable, less violent reality with its Palestinian neighbors, and ultimately to a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement. Israel views this goal as so vital, that it is willing to take big risks, make major concessions, and even face a national trauma to pursue it.
This withdrawal is only the first phase of what could be a new era of progress toward peace, as the focus shifts to what the Palestinians are willing and able to do with the territory now coming under their full control.
Both sides share a common interest in ending the violence, improving their peoples’ security and living standards, and living peacefully side by side in two democratic states. Israel is confident that, when faced with the new reality in Gaza, the logic of cooperation will be self-evident to the Palestinian leadership.
Reaching a democratic decision to implement disengagement – even one overwhelmingly supported by national public opinion – demanded finding answers to some extremely difficult questions. Could Israel leave Gaza without seeming to signal this was a victory for terrorism? Was the country ready to uproot citizens who had lived in the area for decades? Did redeployment mean giving up a negotiating asset without getting anything in return? Despite the highly emotional issues involved, the public debate was predominately peaceful, even with demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people on both sides of the issue.
While this internal process was going on, Israel made every attempt to coordinate the redeployment operation with the Palestinian leadership, which recently declared that the effort was indeed succeeding. Nevertheless, Israel has made it clear that there can be no disengagement under fire and will respond in force if attacked.
Following disengagement, four critical issues must be addressed: security, economic development, diplomacy, and international assistance.
Regarding security: If the Palestinians fulfill their commitments under the Roadmap plan to stop terrorist attacks on Israel, then peace will prevail. If, however, these attacks continue, Israel will have to take the necessary steps to defend its populace.
As for economic development: Israel recognizes that it has a vested interest in showing the Palestinians they are better off under conditions of peace rather than continued violence. For this reason, Israel will make every effort to facilitate aid, economic cooperation, and the free movement of goods, services, and labor.
In the diplomatic process: A key element of the Roadmap to Peace is the Palestinian commitment to end terrorism, including dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and ending the incitement that encourages violence. As the Palestinian Authority now assumes full responsibility for the Gaza Strip, it has the chance to demonstrate its ability to govern and fulfill its commitments. If it does, rapid progress and a bright future for all people of the area are achievable.
Finally, the international community can provide vital assistance to ensure the success of disengagement by empowering moderate forces and weakening extremists.
Israel also hopes its neighbors in the region will seize this opportunity to build with it a region of peace, stability, and cooperation. Achieving comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world is no less vital than doing so between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel’s watershed disengagement initiative is a demonstration of faith in the eventual attainment of peace. With reciprocation from the Palestinians and help from the international community, it may serve as a breakthrough toward this goal.