On the 14 Anniversary of Israeli Disengagement From Gaza, What’s Changed?
At the time, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza 14 years ago seemed hopeful and significant, but little has improved for Palestinians and now Israel threatens annexation.
September 12, 2005, is an especially a significant day for residents of the Gaza Strip on the shores of the Mediterranean. It was the completion of unilateral Israeli “disengagement,” when 17 Israeli settlements across the occupied coastal territory were evacuated on orders from the then-Israeli prime minister and now-late Ariel Sharon.
Crowds of Palestinians from refugee camps across the Strip flocked into the empty Israeli settlements for the first time since their construction began in the late 1970s.
Back in September 2005, I toured the southern Gaza settlements and discovered a municipal building, a synagogue and some other infrastructure that belonged to the Neve Dekalim settlement near the Palestinian city of Khan Younis. It is now all part of the al-Aqsa University of Gaza’s women’s campus.
The abandoned Israeli settlements constituted almost 40 percent of the total Gaza Strip. Some remains still exist – the barbed wire fences, water wells and some farms built by Israelis on fertile Gaza land. Yet Palestinian builders have failed to reuse the large swathes of land left by Israel – except for a few tourist attractions by the seaside.
But recently, the Hamas-led government – with Qatari funding – was able to revive residential buildings, mainly in the former Ganei Tal settlement, also in the Gush Katif bloc near Khan Younis. Similar residential compounds have been converted near Rafah, mainly on the site of the former Israeli settlement of Kfar Yam, after a funding donation from Saudi Arabia.
But what was the significance of that unilateral Israeli withdrawal, 14 years ago today?
“Palestinian resistance actions that had mounted from early 2000 until the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2006 constituted a solid reason for the late Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to take the bold step of unilateral disengagement,” Dr. Mahmoud Alajramy, a Gaza-based leading political analyst and academic, told Citizen Truth.
Dr. Alajramy continued, “Though the disengagement appeared to be a painful concession from the part of Israel, Israeli political spectrum had no choice but to go ahead with the step. However, Israel has not yet withdrawn from the coastal territory; it has rather kept its presence on border lines, airspace and sea. Since 2007, Israel has been imposing a crippling blockade on the Gaza Strip. In fact, the disengagement was for Israel a less costly form of occupation.”
Netanyahu Vows Annexation
With growing Israeli settlements activities on the occupied Palestinian West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the mounting United States’ support for the state of Israel, along with a deadlocked peace process, the Israeli government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, is moving ahead with bold unilateral moves. On Tuesday Netanyahu vowed to annex the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel if he wins his re-election next week when Israel heads to the polls on September 17. He also said that Israel will not repeat the Gaza disengagement move in the West Bank.
Annexing the internationally-recognized occupied Palestinian territories could lead to a flare-up of the conflict in the region, according to Dr. Hussam Aldajany, another Gaza-based political analyst. Dr. Aldajany told Citizen Truth:
“I do believe that any Israeli move towards actually annexing the occupied Palestinian territories to Israel would help fuel a large-scale tension in the region, a tension that could not be contained.
“The Palestinian street, in general, is being outraged because of Israel’s expansionist policy in terms of settlements, Israeli killing of peaceful border demonstrators in Gaza and the Israeli cut off of funds, due to the Palestinian Authority.
“I do believe that the latest announcement by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, that he would halt implementation of past-signed agreements with Israel, would have an impact in the sense that the Palestinian Authority would not help contain any upcoming violence. Let me cite here the latest individual acts of resistance across the West Bank, which led to the killing and injury of several Israeli soldiers and citizens.”
European Position and Washington’s Moves
This week, the European Union reiterated a long-time stance toward Israeli settlements activities, which are dubbed illegal by international law. The E.U. voiced its concern that such settlements’ activities pose a serious obstacle for peace in the region, based on a long-envisioned two-state solution.
The E.U.’s stance comes amid the U.S.’s increased backing of Israel, represented by Washington’s declaration of East Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the U.S. embassy to the Palestinian part of the city. In addition, Washington has cut off all financial aid allocated for the Palestinian Authority and has pushed on a new arrangement for peace, known widely as the “deal of the century,” which Palestinians have so far opposed.
Gaza-based political analyst Hassan Abdo told Citizen Truth that the E.U.’s position has been weak in comparison to the U.S.’s domination of the scene in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine and Israel.
“I do not believe that the E.U. will take a firm stance towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Europe has been connected with the U.S. by means of mutual interests and therefore, the E.U. might not develop a new strategy. Also, current normalization attempts between Israel and some influential Arab states further weaken the E.U.’s position,” Abdo said.
What Is the Way Out?
The three Gaza-based political analysts interviewed by Citizen Truth suggested that only the Palestinian people’s unity of action, political agenda and strategy could thwart any unilateral Israeli moves or attempts to highjack the Palestinian aspirations towards a state of their own, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Since the 2005 disengagement, Gaza has not been allowed to repair its war-torn infrastructure, as Israel has continued to undermine life in the territory, attacking the Strip under the pretext of fighting “the terrorist Hamas organization,” and thus blocking any chances of Palestinian national unity.
Throughout the 40 percent of the Gaza Strip which once housed 17 Israeli settlements, one today can only observe some new residential buildings donated by Arab countries, three tourist attractions and some small-sized farms – all administered by the Islamist Hamas party.
Palestinians Need Unity
In June 1967, Israeli forces occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip during the Arab-Israeli War. The U.N. Security Council at that time demanded an immediate withdrawal from the territories by means of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
In the 1970s, Israel began settlement activities in the occupied territories. Israel named the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, which Israel believes to be exclusively Israeli land.
There are currently approximately 215,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem while the settler population in Area C in the occupied West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, is about 413,000. This brings the settler population to approximately 630,000 Israeli settlers in 143 settlement locations in the West Bank (132), including East Jerusalem and 106 outposts.
“What Palestinians definitely need in order to meet current big challenges is to rapidly go for unity and come out with one main strategy that would alone make Israel reconsider all its current racist and expansionist policies that come at the expense of the Palestinian people,” Dr. Mahmoud Alajramy told Citizen Truth ahead of the 14th anniversary of the Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza.