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Ariel Sharon's Disengagement Plan
(and George Bush's letter accepting it) 
April 14, 2004

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In late 2003, with the roadmap for peace stalled, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon announced his intention to unilaterally withdraw Israeli forces and to evacuate four Israeli settlements from Gaza and a small section of the northern West Bank (Samaria).. This "strategic retreat" would allow Israel to conserve resources being wasted on the settlements, reduce friction with Palestinians, and reduce pressure on Israel to negotiate a settlement on unfavorable terms. This surprise move by the right-wing "father" of Israeli settlement activity may also have been aimed at ending the Oslo Peace Process, and giving Israel a free hand to operate against terrorists in Gaza.

To ensure legitimize the move to his right-wing Likud party, which was ideologically opposed to withdrawal, Sharon called for a referendum of registered Likud voters. To ensure support for the plan Sharon traveled to the USA in April 2004, and obtained "concessions" from US President George W. Bush, in the form of a letter indicating US agreement with Israel on major issues to be negotiated in any future settlement, and US acquiescence in the Israeli security barrier. The barrier was being built within the boundaries of the occupied territories to keep Palestinian terrorists out of Israel, but also, many said, to shut the Palestinians into a ghetto and to annex lands to Israel.

The main points of the disengagement plan

The main points of Bush's letter:

The Bush letter did not grant US recognition or legitimacy to any specific Israeli settlements, or guarantee any particular but the Israeli government interpreted this wording to mean that the US would support Israeli annexation of Ma'aleh Edumim, Gush Etzion, the Israeli settlements in the Hebron area and Ariel.


Bush's letter caused a storm especially in the Arab world because the United States did not back the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory and seemed to be giving tacit recognition to Israeli settlements. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan likewise insisted on strict adherence to UN resolutions on the refugee issue, particularly resolution 194, which would mean the end of the Jewish national home in Israel.   If all Palestinian refugee claimants were to be settled in Israel, they would outnumber the Jewish population. Therefore, rejection of this interpretation of "right of return" has been a key demand of Israelis. However, with the exception of acquiescence in the Israeli security fence, Bush's letter gave Israel practically nothing that had not been implicit in President Clinton's Taba peace settlement plan and in a speech given by President Clinton. However, politically and tactically, Bush's letter was an important "victory" for Israel and compensated in a small way for the fact that Israel was ceding all of Gaza in return for no Palestinian concessions at all.

The plan was approved February 20, 2005 by the Israeli Cabinet after being approved by the Knesset. 25 settlements of varying sizes will be evacuated. (Click for Map)

The disengagement plan was implemented in August and September of 2005.

Ami Isseroff

More commentary and reactions

 Israel Disengagement Map - 2005  - with approximate population of settlements.

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Exchange of letters between George Bush and Ariel Sharon, April 14, 2004

Letter from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to US President George W. Bush

Dear Mr. President,

The vision that you articulated in your 24 June 2002 address constitutes one of the most significant contributions toward ensuring a bright future for the Middle East. Accordingly, the State of Israel has accepted the Roadmap, as adopted by our government. For the first time, a practical and just formula was presented for the achievement of peace, opening a genuine window of opportunity for progress toward a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, involving two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

This formula sets forth the correct sequence and principles for the attainment of peace. Its full implementation represents the sole means to make genuine progress. As you have stated, a Palestinian state will never be created by terror, and Palestinians must engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure. Moreover, there must be serious efforts to institute true reform and real democracy and liberty, including new leaders not compromised by terror. We are committed to this formula as the only avenue through which an agreement can be reached. We believe that this formula is the only viable one.

The Palestinian Authority under its current leadership has taken no action to meet its responsibilities under the Roadmap. Terror has not ceased, reform of the Palestinian security services has not been undertaken, and real institutional reforms have not taken place. The State of Israel continues to pay the heavy cost of constant terror. Israel must preserve its capability to protect itself and deter its enemies, and we thus retain our right to defend ourselves against terrorism and to take actions against terrorist organizations.

The Honorable George W. Bush President of the United States of America The White House Washington, D.C.

Having reached the conclusion that, for the time being, there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement and since the current impasse is unhelpful to the achievement of our shared goals, I have decided to initiate a process of gradual disengagement with the hope of reducing friction between Israelis and Palestinians. The Disengagement Plan is designed to improve security for Israel and stabilize our political and economic situation. It will enable us to deploy our forces more effectively until such time that conditions in the Palestinian Authority allow for the full implementation of the Roadmap to resume.

I attach, for your review, the main principles of the Disengagement Plan. This initiative, which we are not undertaking under the roadmap, represents an independent Israeli plan, yet is not inconsistent with the roadmap. According to this plan, the State of Israel intends to relocate military installations and all Israeli villages and towns in the Gaza Strip, as well as other military installations and a small number of villages in Samaria.

In this context, we also plan to accelerate construction of the Security Fence, whose completion is essential in order to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel. The fence is a security rather than political barrier, temporary rather than permanent, and therefore will not prejudice any final status issues including final borders. The route of the Fence, as approved by our Government’s decisions, will take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities.

Upon my return from Washington, I expect to submit this Plan for the approval of the Cabinet and the Knesset, and I firmly believe that it will win such approval.

The Disengagement Plan will create a new and better reality for the State of Israel, enhance its security and economy, and strengthen the fortitude of its people. In this context, I believe it is important to bring new opportunities to the Negev and the Galilee. Additionally, the Plan will entail a series of measures with the inherent potential to improve the lot of the Palestinian Authority, providing that it demonstrates the wisdom to take advantage of this opportunity. The execution of the Disengagement Plan holds the prospect of stimulating positive changes within the Palestinian Authority that might create the necessary conditions for the resumption of direct negotiations.

We view the achievement of a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians as our central focus and are committed to realizing this objective. Progress toward this goal must be anchored exclusively in the Roadmap and we will oppose any other plan.

In this regard, we are fully aware of the responsibilities facing the State of Israel. These include limitations on the growth of settlements; removal of unauthorized outposts; and steps to increase, to the extent permitted by security needs, freedom of movement for Palestinians not engaged in terrorism. Under separate cover we are sending to you a full description of the steps the State of Israel is taking to meet all its responsibilities.

The government of Israel supports the United States efforts to reform the Palestinian security services to meet their roadmap obligations to fight terror. Israel also supports the American's efforts, working with the International Community, to promote the reform process, build institutions and improve the economy of the Palestinian Authority and to enhance the welfare of its people, in the hope that a new Palestinian leadership will prove able to fulfill its obligations under the roadmap.

I want to again express my appreciation for your courageous leadership in the war against global terror, your important initiative to revitalize the Middle East as a more fitting home for its people and, primarily, your personal friendship and profound support for the State of Israel.


Ariel Sharon

Letter from US President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

His Excellency Ariel Sharon Prime Minister of Israel

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Thank you for your letter setting out your disengagement plan.

The United States remains hopeful and determined to find a way forward toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. I remain committed to my June 24, 2002 vision of two states living side by side in peace and security as the key to peace, and to the roadmap as the route to get there.

We welcome the disengagement plan you have prepared, under which Israel would withdraw certain military installations and all settlements from Gaza, and withdraw certain military installations and settlements in the West Bank. These steps described in the plan will mark real progress toward realizing my June 24, 2002 vision, and make a real contribution towards peace. We also understand that, in this context, Israel believes it is important to bring new opportunities to the Negev and the Galilee. We are hopeful that steps pursuant to this plan, consistent with my vision, will remind all states and parties of their own obligations under the roadmap.

The United States appreciates the risks such an undertaking represents. I therefore want to reassure you on several points.

First, the United States remains committed to my vision and to its implementation as described in the roadmap. The United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan. Under the roadmap, Palestinians must undertake an immediate cessation of armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere, and all official Palestinian institutions must end incitement against Israel. The Palestinian leadership must act decisively against terror, including sustained, targeted, and effective operations to stop terrorism and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. Palestinians must undertake a comprehensive and fundamental political reform that includes a strong parliamentary democracy and an empowered prime minister.

Second, there will be no security for Israelis or Palestinians until they and all states, in the region and beyond, join together to fight terrorism and dismantle terrorist organizations. The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel's security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel's capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.

Third, Israel will retain its right to defend itself against terrorism, including to take actions against terrorist organizations. The United States will lead efforts, working together with Jordan, Egypt, and others in the international community, to build the capacity and will of Palestinian institutions to fight terrorism, dismantle terrorist organizations, and prevent the areas from which Israel has withdrawn from posing a threat that would have to be addressed by any other means. The United States understands that after Israel withdraws from Gaza and/or parts of the West Bank, and pending agreements on other arrangements, existing arrangements regarding control of airspace, territorial waters, and land passages of the West Bank and Gaza will continue.

The United States is strongly committed to Israel's security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.

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 to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

I know that, as you state in your letter, you are aware that certain responsibilities face the State of Israel. Among these, your government has stated that the barrier being erected by Israel should be a security rather than political barrier, should be temporary rather than permanent, and therefore not prejudice any final status issues including final borders, and its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities.

As you know, the United States supports the establishment of a Palestinian state that is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent, so that the Palestinian people can build their own future in accordance with my vision set forth in June 2002 and with the path set forth in the roadmap. The United States will join with others in the international community to foster the development of democratic political institutions and new leadership committed to those institutions, the reconstruction of civic institutions, the growth of a free and prosperous economy, and the building of capable security institutions dedicated to maintaining law and order and dismantling terrorist organizations.

A peace settlement negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians would be a great boon not only to those peoples but to the peoples of the entire region. Accordingly, the United States believes that all states in the region have special responsibilities: to support the building of the institutions of a Palestinian state; to fight terrorism, and cut off all forms of assistance to individuals and groups engaged in terrorism; and to begin now to move toward more normal relations with the State of Israel. These actions would be true contributions to building peace in the region.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have described a bold and historic initiative that can make an important contribution to peace. I commend your efforts and your courageous decision which I support. As a close friend and ally, the United States intends to work closely with you to help make it a success.


George W. Bush


The Disengagement Proposal of Ariel Sharon

(The current version is a preliminary and informal text of the letter appended to Ariel Sharon's letter to George W. Bush, and leaked to the press and published in Hebrew here. )

1. General Principles

Israel is committed to the peace process and is aiming to reach a negotiated agreement on the basis of two states for two peoples: the State of Israel as a Jewish state and a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people. This is in keeping with President Bush's vision for a two state solution. Israel believes that it must act to improve the current reality. Israel has come to the realization that at present there is no Palestinian partner with whom to proceed along a bilateral peace process. In this light, a unilateral plan of disengagement has been prepared with the following considerations in mind:

A. The current situation is untenable. In order to move beyond the current situation, it is incumbent on Israel to proceed along a path not reliant on Palestinian cooperation.

B. The disengagement plan will lead to an improved security reality, in the long term at least.

C. In any future final status arrangement ,there will be no Israeli settlement activity in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, it is clear that there will be areas in Judea and Samaria that will be part of the State of Israel, and there will be civilian communities, security zones and other places in which Israel has further interest inside those areas.

D. The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from an area in northern Samaria (four settlements and military installations in their vicinity) will diminish the friction with the Palestinian population and has the potential to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians living there and the Palestinian economy.

E. Israel hopes that the Palestinians will succeed in taking advantage of the disengagement process in order to break out of the cycle of violence and reenter a process of dialogue.

F. The disengagement process will negate the force of the arguments regarding Israel's responsibility for the residents of the Gaza Strip.

G. The disengagement process does not detract from the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. The relevant existing agreements will continue to be in effect. At the time when there is visible evidence of a readiness, ability and implementation on the Palestinian side of fighting terrorism and the implementation of reforms on the basis of the road map peace plan, it will be possible to return to the path of negotiations and dialogue.

2. Main points of the plan

A. The Gaza Strip

1. Israel will withdraw from the Gaza Strip, including all the existing Israeli settlements, and will redeploy in territory outside of the Strip. The withdrawal excludes a military presence in the area along the border area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt called 'The Philadelphia Corridor' as will be detailed later.

2. Once the process is complete, there will be no permanent land-based Israeli military or civilian presence in the Gaza Strip.

3. A fact emanating from this move will be the lack of a basis to the claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory.

B. Judea and Samaria

1. Israel will withdraw from an area in northern Samaria (Ganim, Kadim, Homesh and Sanur) and all permanent military installations in this area, and will redeploy outside this area.

2. Once the process is complete, there will be no permanent Israeli military or civilian presence in northern Samaria.

3. The process will allow for a continuous Palestinian territory in the area of northern Samaria.

4. Israel will improve the transportation infrastructure in Judea and Samaria with an eye to allow continuous Palestinian transportation in Judea and Samaria.

5. The process will ease Palestinian economic and commercial activity in Judea and Samaria.

C. The Security Fence

Israel will continue building the Security Fence in accordance with the decisions of the government. The route of the Security Fence will take humanitarian concerns into consideration.

3. The security reality following the withdrawal

A. The Gaza Strip

1. Israel will supervise and secure the outer envelope of the geographical land mass, will exclusively control the airspace of the Gaza Strip, and will continue to carry out military operations in the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip.

2. The Gaza Strip will be demilitarized of weapons whose existence are not in accordance with existing agreements between the two sides.

3.Israel retains the basic right to self defense, including preemptive steps and response, with the use of force, against threats emanating from this area.

B. Judea and Samaria

1. With the removal of the settlements in northern Samaria (Ganim, Kadim, Homesh and Sanur) there will be no permanent Israeli military presence in the area.

2. Israel retains the basic right to self defense, including preemptive steps and response, with the use of force, against threats emanating from this area.

3. The existing security activity will continue in the remaining areas of Judea and Samaria. However, if circumstances allow, Israel will consider reducing its activity in Palestinian cities.

4. Israel will work towards reducing the number of checkpoints in Judea and Samaria as a whole.

. Military installations and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria

These will be dismantled, except for those that Israel decides to keep for the decision of another body.

The nature of security assistance to the Palestinians

Israel agrees, following coordination, to allow security consultations, assistance and training for the Palestinian security forces, for the purposes of fighting terrorism and maintaining public order, to be given by American, British and Egyptian authorities, or other experts, in accordance with agreements reached with Israel. Israel stands firm on the principle that there will be no foreign military presence in the Gaza Strip and/ or Judea and Samaria, without coordination and without Israeli agreement.

6. The border area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (The Philadelphia Corridor)

In the first phase, Israel will continue to maintain a military presence along the length of the border line between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (The Philadelphia Corridor). This military presence is an essential security presence. In certain areas, it may be necessary to physically enlarge the area in which military operations are conducted. In the future, Israel will consider the possibility of withdrawing from this area.

Any withdrawal from this area will be conditioned, amongst other things, on the security reality and on the level of cooperation granted by Egypt in the creation of a more trustworthy solution. If and when the conditions for a withdrawal of this area arise, Israel will be ready to consider the possibility of the establishment of a seaport and an airport in the Gaza Strip, in accordance with agreements reached with Israel.

7. Israeli settlements

Israel will aim to maintain the assets of Israeli settlements. The transfer of Israeli economic activities for use by Palestinians includes the possibility of expanding Palestinian commercial activity. Israel suggests the establishment of an international body (along the lines of the AHLC) which will be agreed upon between Israel and the United States, that will take possession of the settlements, take calculations and make assessments of their overall commercial value. Israel retains the right to ask compensation to the value of all the economic assets that remain in areas it withdraws from.

8. Infrastructure and civilian arrangements

The infrastructures of water, electricity, waste management and communications serving the Palestinians will remain in place. Israel will work towards leaving in place the similar infrastructures present in the Israeli settlements it withdraws from. As a rule, Israel will allow the continuation of the supply of water, electricity, gas and petrol to the Palestinians, in accordance with existing agreements. The existing agreements, including water and electro-magnetic fields, will remain in effect.

9. The activities of international civilian organizations

Israel sees positively the continued activities of international humanitarian organizations working towards civil development, and who are assisting the Palestinian population. Israel will coordinate with these humanitarian organizations to assist their activities.

10. General arrangements

As a rule, the general arrangements currently in place between Israel and the Palestinians will remain in effect. These arrangements include, amongst others:

A. The entrance of Palestinian laborers into Israel in accordance with existing criteria.

B. The flow of goods between the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, Israel and overseas.

C. Monetary policy.

D. Taxation and customs arrangements.

E. Postal and communications arrangements.

In the long term, and in accordance with Israeli interests of increased Palestinian economic independence, Israel aspires to diminish the number of Palestinian laborers entering Israel. Israel will support the development of commercial sources in the Gaza Strip and in Palestinian areas of Judea and Samaria.

11. The Erez Industrial Zone

The Erez Industrial Zone, which exists inside the Gaza Strip, employs about 4, 000 Palestinian laborers. The continuing activity of this industrial zone is first and foremost a clear and significant Palestinian interest. Israel will consider maintaining the status quo of the industrial zone under two conditions:

A. The existence of suitable security arrangements.

B. A clear recognition by the international community that the continuing operation of the industrial zone under its present conditions will not be viewed as a continuation of Israeli control of the area.

Or, the industrial zone will be handed over to the responsibility of agreed upon Palestinian or international authorities. Israel will consider, together with Egypt, the possible of establishing a joint industrial zone on the border of the Gaza Strip, Egypt and Israel.

12. International crossings

A. The international crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt:

1. The existing arrangements at the crossing will remain in place.

2. Israel is interested in moving the crossing to a "tri-border" point, about 2 kilometers from its current location. The process will be carried out with Egyptian coordination. This will allow an increase in the hours of operation at the crossing.

B. The international crossings between Judea and Samaria and Jordan; the existing arrangements in place at the crossings will continue to be in place.

13. The Erez crossing The Erez crossing will be moved into the territory of Israel at a timetable agreed upon separately.

14. Timetable.

The process of withdrawal is planned to end at the end of 2005. Stages of withdrawal and the detailed timetable will be brought to auspices of the United States.

15. Conclusion

Israel expects wide international support for the disengagement process. This support is crucial in order to bring the Palestinians to implement their responsibilities in the areas of fighting terrorism and carrying out reforms according to the road map peace plan. Only then can both sides return to the path of negotiations.


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