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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #81: April 28, 2004

Unilateral Disengagement and Reaction to Sharon's Proposals

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

In the third part of Zalman Shoval's speech, he not only outlines Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's controversial disengagement plan, but also examines the concepts behind it. Shoval also explains why Sharon believes Bush's backing for his proposals is essential.

The first part of this speech can be found here

Ambassador Zalman Shoval:

Now to unilateral disengagement which right now is the only game in town. Provided, we still have to clear up a few items with the umpire, meaning the Americans. The reason why Sharon decided to embark on this project/plan/program of unilateral disengagement unilateral steps if you want was that he didn't believe that one should allow the present situation to continue to drift. It has drifted for at least three years, some would say more.

The idea [of unilateral disengagement] itself is not entirely new. It's almost thirty years old. Under different circumstance, of course, it goes something like this. We Israel are not likely to have a real peace partner on the Palestinian side anytime soon. Among other things, the failure of the recent Barak initiative at Camp David that's the Camp David I did not participate in, I participated in the real one had proved conclusively that solutions imposed from the outside won't work either. So, let's decide what and where is/are really vitally important to us. Mainly, though not only, from the point of view of security and withdraw from what we don't want to keep anyway. And good riddance!

Maybe I should try to define here what from Israel's point of view having a real peace process means; and it's only my own interpretation. In the first place it means that there must be a Palestinian leadership willing and able to once and for all give up the option of terror and violence. Dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. Stop anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in the media and the schools. Ideologically accept the right of existence of the Jewish state. Now, this is by the way, the first stage of the Road Map.

Palestinian Prime Minister [Ahmed] Qurei, who I think has appeared here a few weeks ago, (1) has admitted only yesterday in a speech to the Palestinian Parliament that the Palestinians have failed, or at least not tried, or whatever the reason was. They have not succeeded in having any sort of reform with regards to the security organs of the Palestinian authority, so that would be point number one.

This also means that the Palestinian partner will not reject compromise and will accept the principle of UN Security Council resolution 242 & 338 (2) as the basis for negotiation of on permanent status. To quote a very well known and elderly Egyptian journalist, Amiq Monsuer, he said the other day the Palestinians should adopt the simple principle which had guided [the late Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat and [the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin, namely that "anything is negotiable."

Now our underlying assumption is that at this time there doesn't exist a formula for a final, formal peace agreement acceptable to the Palestinians that Israel could live with and vice versa. [That is to say] an agreement which Israel could live with and would be acceptable to the Palestinians. One way to deal with that impasse is for Israel to go ahead and establish administrative and physical security lines between itself and the Palestinian entity. This effective situation thus established by unilateral steps could eventually be superceded by new permanent arrangements once the conditions have become more provident.

Actually, some optimists claim unilateral disengagement could pave the way to formal agreements in the future. There may be Palestinian leaders who are loathed to sign formal agreements with Israeli leaders at this time, but would accept de facto arrangements, after all this would be a step towards statehood without obligating either side to finally and formally renounce their respect positions with regard to a permanent status agreement including some tricky issues such as Jerusalem and refugees for instance.

As a possible caveat, I would nevertheless say that wrapping things too fast could create on the part of the Palestinians a false sense of having gained an advantage over Israel as a result of their three-and-a-half year terror campaign. Similarly, to the way the head-over-heels withdrawal from Lebanon had at the time been a major element in sparking the so called Al-Aqsa Intifada. One conclusion is that there will not be any precipitate withdrawal. It will take time. It's not a matter of days or weeks. It may be a matter of months.

Now, international opinion about Sharon's proposals was, and still is, mixed. At first disbelief, then going from cold to lukewarm, depending on how one interprets unilateral disengagement. Is it the first step, the final step or an interim step? The official Palestinian leadership rightly worried that unilateral steps by Israel would deprive them of their often deployed blackmail and holding tactics. Not surprisingly, they were less than pleased. Though there were some Palestinians not in the official leadership who expressed different opinions. But now, again only yesterday trying apparently to get in tune with the United States Mr. Abu Ala, Prime Minister [Ahmed] Qurei at least is beginning to make more positive sounds about the way proposed by Israel of unilateral steps.

Now, Sharon knows that a clear majority of Israelis, around 60 percent, support unilateral disengagement. In fact, [they] prefer it to seeking an agreement, which in the light of experience is deemed to be unattainable, at least for now. The situation in the prime minister's parliamentary coalition in the Cabinet, however, and in the Likud [Party] central committee is quite different, at least at present. Come to think of it, Israel may not be the only country where the prime minister is in trouble with his own party.

Anyway, some in the Likud [Party] are opposed in principle to any arrangement not supported by a written, formal agreement, while others find it difficult and objectionable in principle to dismantle settlements and give up territory. They may rationally recognize that there are changed realities and requirements but they feel themselves emotionally unable to be a party to it. Therefore, Sharon has decided, and the party has approved, to have a referendum among Likud members; 230,000 to 240,000 people, where he stands a good chance, certainly a better chance, of getting a majority.(3)

Now, let's assume that the Labor Party will support him, at least on the proposed withdrawals, although not on all the steps. Whether such a jerry-built political structure would be tenable for more than a short time is in my view doubtful. However, the main, all important building block in Sharon's concept [and] also with regard to domestic Israeli politics is reaching a wide-ranging understanding with the United States on the different aspects and implications of unilateral disengagement. [These are] implications for the future and especially with regards to Israeli's decision in Judea and Sumaria, also called the West Bank.

Not that Israel does not want reciprocal steps form the Palestinians. It does, certainly with regard to acting against terrorism. If there is to be is an important role for US diplomacy, the principle element would be obtaining the formal, historically public support of the United States for the steps envisaged by Sharon, including those referring to the West Bank. If such understandings with the US should fall short of what Sharon needs or if the steps which Sharon proposes should fall short of what the US expects, the idea of unilateral disengagement might still join the long list of Middle Eastern peace initiatives which have come to naught.

The above transcript is based on a presentation given at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 1 April 2004.

The first part of this speech can be found here

The second part of this speech can be found here


(1) Moderate Palestinian Prime Minister Visits London
Europe Report #72, 11 March 2004

(2) UN Security Council resolution 242 (27 November 1967)
UN Security Council resolution 338

(3) Likud Sets Vote on Gaza Pull-out
BBC News, 11 April 2004

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