On the Jewish calendar, last Friday marked the fifteenth anniversary of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, during which the country forcibly removed some 9,000 of its own citizens from their homes. Since then, Gaza has become a launching pad from which Hamas and other terrorist groups can fire rockets and incendiary devices into the Jewish state. Evidence has recently emerged that then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had convened a committee to come up with a plan for a broader disengagement from the West Bank, writes Nadav Shragai:
At that time, the team was asked to present the security and defense, economic, legal, and diplomatic framework for another withdrawal, . . . to be based on the lessons of the disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria. The committee was not given a mandate to lay down the borders of the retreat or decide which settlements would be evacuated, but was asked to map out the Israeli interests of another unilateral move for the area of the West Bank, if it turned out that there was no Palestinian partner for peace negotiations.
Thus, for example, [the committee] looked as the financial costs of evacuating 15,000 settler families (about 100,000 people) from far-flung communities. This would have been ten times as many setters as the number evicted from Gush Katif. [The major settlement blocs, home to roughly 150,000 other Israelis, would remain under Israeli control.]
According to the committee, [however], the West Bank is “tactical terrain,” whereas the Gaza Strip is topographically lower than Israel. The West Bank also has a number of water sources that are important to residents of Israel, which Gaza does not. The Gaza Strip is entirely closed off and easier to control from outside in terms of security. In contrast, the committee said, Israel would have difficulty finding a solution to the threat of rocket fire from hilly areas in Judea and Samaria, and there was also concern that Hamas would gain control of the large population centers there, making continued IDF presence in key parts of Judea and Samaria the most reasonable way of preventing rocket attacks and a Hamas takeover.
Whether Sharon ever seriously considered executing such a plan, and if so, how close he came to doing so, remain open questions. Shragai does believe it likely that his successor, Ehud Olmert, would have done so given the time and political ability.