Israel Resource News Agency has learned from highly placed sources in the US Defense Department that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has informed the US government that he intends to implement the retreat from Gush Katif as of May 1, 2004. This move is being carefully coordinated with the US, the UN and the EU.
Dr. Uzi Arad, the head of the Herzlia Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, says that “it was predictable that Sharon would find that there is no such thing as ‘unilateral’ withdrawal, and that this move will now find Israel with many bedfellows that it would rather not have”.
That means one of two things. Either Sharon will implement a government decision and ignore any constraints, as he ignored the constraints that the government placed on the road map and the prisoner exchange, or he will implement the rules that he can apply under the military law which currently operates in Katif – cutting off electricity, water and protection.
This news item will appear in my column in the MAKOR RISHON newspaper on March 12th, 2004.
The following item which appeared in the Jerusalem Post on March. 9, 2004 elucidates the issues now at hand:
Disengagement Talks Pick up Speed
By Herb Keinon
Israeli-US consultations on the disengagement plan are shifting into high gear, with Shin Bet head Avi Dichter and Defense Ministry Shaul Mofaz holding talks this week in Washington, and a high level US delegation expected to arrive in Israel Thursday. In addition, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met Monday night in Jerusalem with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to discuss the disengagement plan.
Israel is interested in Egypt opening its borders for Palestinian workers after the IDF withdraws, and also for Egypt to take some security responsibility over the border area to prevent smuggling. Suleiman is expected to hold talks in Ramallah on the issue on Wednesday. Diplomatic officials said Egypt will be reluctant to play any future role in Gaza if it is not fully coordinated with the Palestinians.
Mubarak was quoted on Monday in the French daily Le Figaro as saying Egypt would not contribute to security arrangements in the Gaza strip after an Israeli withdrawal “It is a trap because we would find ourselves in a situation of confrontation with the Palestinians,” Mubarak said. “And if there were a problem, we could even find ourselves in conflict with the Israelis.” Sharon and Suleiman reportedly discussed the possibility of a Sharon-Mubarak meeting.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who has come out against unilateral steps, will be going to Egypt Thursday for talks with Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher about the disengagement plan. Sharon is expected to brief Shalom Wednesday on where matters currently stand. Diplomatic sources said Shalom will try to gage the level of Mubarak’s declared opposition to an Egyptian security role in the post-Israeli Gaza Strip.
Sharon, meanwhile, said at a meeting with the American organizers of a project to build an Israel-Jordanian university in the Arava that he will be meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah in “a few days.” Officials in Sharon’s office, however, said no date for the meting has yet been set. Dichter is currently in Washington and Mofaz is scheduled to arrive there Wednesday.
The US high-level delegation “Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the National Security Council’s Elliott Abrams, and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns is expected to remain in Israel only until Friday night, and is slated to meet Sharon, his bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, and National Security Council head Giora Eiland, charged with developing the plan.
Diplomatic officials said the US is seeking answers to a wide variety of questions regarding the plan. The official said that even after Mofaz, Dichter and the three US officials go back to their respective homes; the US will still not have a final idea of the plan because “Sharon has not yet filled in all the details.” The plans final details are expected to be unveiled to US President George W. Bush when he meets Sharon, a meeting still expected to take place before Pessah, which begins on April 5.
The officials said the US is looking for answers to a number of fundamental questions, including:
- How extensive will the evacuation from Gaza be? Will it include the three northern settlements of Elei Sinai, Dugit and Nissanit?
- Will Israel also remove its military presence from Gaza?
- Who will control the strategic Philadelphia Corridor, and what will the Egyptian role be in patrolling that strategic road?
- How will Israel coordinate the disengagement with the Palestinian Authority?
- How will Gaza’s maritime borders be patrolled to prevent penetration from organizations such as Hizbullah?
- Where will the evacuated settlers go to live?
- What will happen to the evacuated homes, will they be transferred to the Palestinians or razed to the ground?
- What will happen to the water and electricity infrastructure left behind?
- How will Israel respond if settlers physically resist evacuation?
- What isolated West Bank settlements will Israel evacuate?
- What plans does Israel have for the West Bank settlement blocks of Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel?
- Does Sharon plan on annexing these areas?
- Who will be footing the bill for the disengagement project?
Diplomatic officials said despite reports the US administration is keen on seeing implementation of the disengagement plan wait until after the November US Presidential elections, it is difficult to imagine a plan of this magnitude getting off the ground before then even if the timing was unimportant to Bush.
The daunting task that Sharon will have to perform to pull the disengagement off includes overcoming opposition to the plan inside the Likud, getting the plan through the cabinet and Knesset, bringing Labor into the government if the National Religious Party and National Union bolt as expected, dealing with legal challenges by settlers to the evacuation, and then carrying out the actual physical removal of the settlers.