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Israel unilateral disengagement plan of 2004
Israel's unilateral disengagement plan (also known as the disengagement plan, תוכנית ההינתקות) is a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to remove all permanent Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria (part of what is known as The West Bank to the Palestinians, the UN, and most of the International Community). The Gaza Strip contains 21 civilian Israeli settlements, and the area to be evacuated in Samaria contains four; these areas also contain numerous IDF installations. Sharon says the plan is designed to improve Israel's security and international status, in the absence of political negotiations to end the conflict.
- As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. (emphasis added)
The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, announced the European Union's disapproval of the plan, saying it "will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties." However, Europe has given tentative backing to the Disengagemnt plan as part of the Road Map for Peace.
Under the disengagement plan as adopted on 6 June 2004 (see below), the IDF will remain on the Gaza-Egypt border and may engage in further house demolitions to widen a 'buffer zone' there (Art 6). Israel will continue to control Gaza's borders, coastline, and airspace, and reserves the right to undertake incursions at will (Art 3.1). Gaza will also remain dependent on Israeli water, communication, electricity, and sewage networks (Art 8); existing customs arrangements with Israel (whereby imports from Israel to Gaza are not taxed, exports from Gaza to Israel are taxed, and Israel collects customs duties on foreign products entering Gaza) will remain in force and the Israeli currency will continue to be used (Art 10). For these reasons, and because Israel will not accept a Palestinian sovereign authority in Gaza at this time, foreign observers have argued that legally speaking, the disengagement will not constitute an end to Israeli control (see, for example, statement by Human Rights Watch and extensive legal analysis by the Harvard International Humanitarian Law Research initiative (free registration required).
Ariel Sharon first announced his plan in 2004 Hertzeliya Conference, sponsored by the ICT academic institute. Failing to gain public support from senior ministers, Sharon agreed that the Likud party would hold a referendum on the plan in advance of an Israeli cabinet vote. The referendum was held on May 2, 2004 and ended with 65% of the voters saying no to his disengagement plan despite most polls showing approximately 55% of Party members supporting the plan before the referendum.
Commentators and the press described the rejection of the disengagement plan as a hard blow to Sharon. Sharon himself announced that he accepts the Likud referendum results and will take time to consider his steps. He has ordered to Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz to create an amended plan which Likud voters could accept. (As of August that plan had been accepted by the cabinet in principle).
On June 6, 2004, Sharon's government approved the amended disengagement plan but with reservation that dismantling of each settlement should be voted separately. The plan was approved in 14-7 majority after the National Union ministers and cabinet members Avigdor Liberman and Benny Elon were sacked and a compromise offer by Likud's cabinet member Tzipi Livni was achieved.
Following the approval of the plan and the intensive terrorist attacks on Erez crossing and the Erez industrial zone, it was decided to close the Erez Industrial Zone and move its factories to development towns such as Ashkelon, Dimona, Yeruham and Sderot. Many factories were shut down even before, because of increasing Palestinian terrorism and attempts of Palestinian employees to murder their Jewish employers.
As a result of the passing of the plan (in principle), two NRP (Mafdal) ministers (Effie Eitam and Yitzhak Levy) resigned, leaving the government with a minority in the Knesset. Later the entire faction quit after their calls to hold a national referendum were ignored.
Sharon's pushing through this plan has alienated many of his supporters on the right and has garnered him unusual support from the Left wing in Israel. The right believes that Ariel Sharon had ignored the mandate he was elected on and instead adopted the platform of his Labor opponent, Amram Mitzna , who was overwhelmingly defeated. Many on both sides remain skeptical of his will to carry out a withdrawal beyond Gaza and Northern Samaria. It is believed he has a majority for the plan in the government but not his own party. This has forced him to seek a National-Unity government, which was established in January of 2005. Opponents of the plan call on Sharon to hold a national referendum to prove that he has a mandate.
- I welcome the Israeli Prime Minister's proposals for disengagement from Gaza. This represents an opportunity to restart the implementation of the Road Map, as endorsed by the UN Security Council.
On October 11, 2004, in the opening of the Knesset winter session, Sharon conveyed a speech in which he outlined his plan to start legislation for the disengagement in the begining of November. In a symbolic act, the Knesset voted 53-44 against Sharon's address: the Israeli Labor party voted against, while Mafdal and 10 member of Likud refused to support Sharon in the vote.
On October 26, 2004, the Knesset gave preliminary approval for the plan with 67 for, 45 against, 7 abstentions and 1 member absent. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and three other cabinet ministers from Sharon's ruling Likud government threatened to resign unless Mr. Sharon agreed to hold a national referendum on the plan within 14 days.
On November 9, 2004, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lifted his resignation threat, saying "In this new situation [the death of Yasser Arafat], I decided to stay in the government". Following the vote 14 days earlier, and Sharon's subsequent refusal to budge on the referendum issue, the three other cabinet ministers from the Likud party backed down from their threat within days.
On February 16, 2005, the Knesset finalized and approved the plan with 59 in favor, 40 opposed, 5 abstaining. A proposed amendment to submit the plan to a referendum was rejected (29-72). The approval of the Disengagement Law now only leaves the formality of a cabinet decision before the plan can come into effect.
On March 28, 2005, The Knesset again rejected a bill to delay the implementation of the disengagement plan by a vote of 72 to 39. The bill was introduced by a group of rebel Likud MKs, who want to force a referendum on the pullout. 
On April 8, 2005, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz says that Israel should consider not demolishing the evacuated buildings in the Gaza Strip, with the exception of synagogues (due to fears of their potential desecration) since it would be more costly and time consuming. This contrasts with the original plan by the Prime Minister to demolish all buildings which are vacated after the disengagement plan.
Opposition to the plan
The Palestinian Authority, in the absence of a final peace settlement, has welcomed any military withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, however many Palestinians have objected to the plan, stating the plan aims to bypass past international agreements, and instead call for an overall withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Their suspicions were further roused when top Sharon aide Dov Weisglass was quoted in an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz on October 6, 2004 as saying the purpose of disengagement was to destroy Palestinian aspirations for a state for years to come. "The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process," Weisglass said in a interview with the newspaper, "and when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem." This incident has bolstered the position of critics of the Plan that Sharon is intentionally trying to scuttle the Peace Process, an accusation refuted by the Prime Minister's camp. 
Though a majority of Israelis support the plan, opposition to the withdrawal has taken deep root in the Israeli public discussion. A September 15, 2004 survey published in Maariv showed the following results:
- 69% support a general referendum to decide on the plan. Only 26% that approval in the Knesset will be enough.
- If a referendum will be held, 58% will vote for the disengagement plan, while 29% will vote against it. (Maariv), 
On July 25, 2004, the "Human Chain", a rally of tens of thousands of Israelis to protest against the plan and for a national referendum took place. The protestors formed a human chain from Nisanit (later moved to Erez crossing because of security concerns) in the Gaza Strip to the Western Wall in Jerusalem a distance of 90 km.  On October 14, 2004, 100,000 Israelis marched in cities throughout Israel to protest Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan under the slogan "100 cities support Gush Katif and Samaria". (Jerusalem Post)
Those advocating suspension or cancellation of the plan have often quoted one or more of these arguments:
- The religious approach maintains that Eretz Israel was promised to the Jews by God, and that no government has the privilege to waive this inalienable right. In their view inhabiting all of the land of Israel is one of the most important mitzvahs.
- The political approach, owing much to existing right-wing ideology, claims that the areas to be evacuated constitute Israeli territory as legitimately as Tel Aviv or Haifa, and that relocating settlers is at best illegal, and violates their human rights - some have gone as far as labelling it a war crime. In the wake of the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of February 2005, some have claimed that now that there is a negotiation partner on the Palestinian side, the plan has become redundant.
- The military approach says that the plan is disastrous to Israeli security - not only will prevention of Qassam rockets and other attacks from Gaza become nearly impossible after the withdrawal, but implementation of the plan will be an important moral victory for Hamas and other organizations, and will encourage them to continue executing terror attacks against Israel.
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