“[The] formula for the parameters of unilateral solution are:  To maximize the number of Jews; minimize the number of Palestinians; not to withdraw to the 1967 border and not to divide Jerusalem.”

– Ehud Olmert, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister –

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the Israeli ‘Disengagement’ Plan?

The Israeli ‘disengagement plan’ (unveiled by Israeli PM Sharon in December 2003) is a unilateral two-part plan:  (1) the evacuation of all Israeli colonies from the Occupied Gaza Strip (with a total settler population of 7,300) and four small colonies in the northern Occupied West Bank (with a total settler population of 475); (2) the ongoing colonization of the West Bank and its ancillary construction of the Wall, designed to fragment Palestinian communities.

The term ‘disengagement’ is a misnomer:  it implies that Israel will no longer control the Palestinians.  Yet, under the terms of Israel’s plan, Israel will retain complete control over the Occupied Gaza Strip as it will control all borders and crossing points (thereby controlling the movement of goods and people), Palestinian airspace and water space.  Israel has also reserved itself the right to reinvade the Occupied Gaza Strip at will thereby ensuring its military control over the area.  In effect, what Israel aims to isolate the Occupied Gaza Strip and cut it off from the rest of the world.

Why is Israel carrying out this Plan?

The Plan is part of Israel’s long-term strategy to rid itself of as many Palestinians as possible while retaining as much Palestinian land as possible.  By evacuating Israel’s colonies in the Occupied Gaza Strip, Israel can divert attention away from its ongoing colonization in the Occupied West Bank.  In exchange for evacuating colonies in the Gaza Strip (a mere 4.8 percent of Occupied Palestinian Territory), Israel will continue to build its colonies and Wall in the Occupied West Bank, taking more than 45 percent of Occupied Palestinian Territory.     

What will happen to the Israeli colonies?

The Israeli government has taken a unilateral decision to demolish the structures in the colonies, including houses.

But can’t the houses be used to resettle Palestinians?

Not really.  The Occupied Gaza Strip is 365 km2, and has an estimated Palestinian population of 1.3 million, living on 55 km2 of built-up land, making the Occupied Gaza Strip the most densely populated place on earth.  In twenty years, the population of the Gaza Strip is expected to reach 2 million Palestinians.

Israel’s colonization of the Gaza Strip was carried out in a horizontal fashion:  Israel’s colonies take up approximately 20 percent of the land of the Gaza Strip and house a mere 7,300 settlers in 2,800 houses.  These 2,800 houses will not be able to meet the housing demands of the burgeoning Palestinian population.  Instead, the land upon which the colonies sit can be used to build high-rise apartments to house more people while simultaneously freeing land for investment purposes to rehabilitate the Palestinian economy.

Where will the rubble be taken?

For environmental reasons, the rubble (approximately 80,000 tonnes) cannot be reused and therefore it must be disposed of in a manner that is not hazardous.  The PA insists that the rubble cannot be stored in Gaza (for environmental, health and space reasons) and therefore it must be transported out of the Gaza Strip.

Will the land evacuated by Israel return to its rightful owners?

Yes.  Ninety-five percent of the land upon which Israel’s colonies and military installations are built is ‘state land’ and accordingly will revert to the public domain upon evacuation.  The remaining five percent of the land belongs to private Palestinian owners who will have their land returned to them in accordance with Palestinian law.

What about the rest of the land?

Given that the land will revert to the public domain, projects for the public will be developed there.  The Ministry of Planning is currently revising its regional plan for the evacuated areas and aims to build hospitals, schools and housing projects as well as tourist locations in the areas evacuated by Israel.

What will happen to the Gaza Strip following the evacuation?

The Palestinian Authority aims to revitalize the Palestinian economy of the Gaza Strip by encouraging investment and hence creating jobs.  However, in order to revitalize the economy Israel’s cooperation (and international support) is necessary.  While the colonization of the Gaza Strip will end, Israel’s occupation of it will not.  Currently, Israel strictly controls all access in and out of the Occupied Gaza Strip, both for people and goods.  If the current levels of absolute control continue, the Gaza Strip will be cut off from the Occupied West Bank and the rest of the world, thereby turning the Gaza Strip into a large prison.  For the Gazan economy to improve and for the evacuation of the Gaza Strip to be a model of success, Israel will have to ensure that Palestinians and their goods are provided free movement and that the Palestinians are allowed to live without Israeli control over their lives and economy.

Don’t you feel sorry for the settlers?

Israeli citizens were given large incentives to move into Occupied Palestinian Territory, including large housing subsidies, lower income tax rates and subsidies for their factories located in Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Israeli settlers are now also being compensated for evacuating from the Occupied Gaza Strip and are being resettled at Israel’s expense in Israel.

The settlers have been the cause of Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian Territory.  Their presence has led to:  (1) greater Israeli military presence in Occupied Palestinian Territory; (2) the confiscation of Palestinian land for the construction of Israeli-only colonies and roads, often in the name of ‘security’; (3) the destruction and demolition of Palestinian homes and historic locales and (4) led to a dual system of laws imposed in Occupied Palestinian Territory:  Israeli settlers, who number 430,000, live under Israeli civilian law, granted superior rights to 3.5 million Palestinians who are subject to Israeli military law, thereby denied their freedom.  Israelis are granted complete freedom of movement in Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel while Palestinians are relegated to Palestinian-only roads (that lead only to Palestinian areas), live behind hundreds of checkpoints and road barriers (situated in Occupied Palestinian Territory) and require Israeli permission to cross these checkpoints.    Israeli settlers have been involved in a number of crimes against Palestinians and their property that have largely gone unprosecuted.  Human rights organizations, including Israeli, have maintained reports on such incidents.

What can be done to revitalize the Gaza Strip?

Currently, Israel exercises complete control over the Palestinian economy by controlling the movement of Palestinians and their goods.  In the Occupied West Bank, for example, Israel maintains hundreds of checkpoints and barriers designed to fragment Palestinian communities.  Palestinian goods are subject to a ‘back-to-back’ system of movement, wherein Palestinian goods are unloaded and reloaded onto different trucks several times before reaching their final destination.  For example, goods originating from Hebron (in the Occupied West Bank) destined for Nablus (also in the Occupied West Bank) must be unloaded and reloaded an estimated seven times. Obviously this increases transportation costs and the time for which goods reach their destination.

Furthermore, Israel does not maintain systematized rules or procedures for the movement of Palestinian goods, thereby increasing risk and uncertainty among investors.  In the Karni terminal (the sole terminal for the movement of Palestinian goods from the Occupied Gaza Strip), rules for the movement of goods are frequently changed by the Israelis.  Today, a mere 50 trucks per day of Palestinian goods are allowed to leave the terminal, owing to the onerous and unpredictable searches.  Israeli goods, which do not have to go through any security procedures are shipped in daily on more than 300 trucks.  Accordingly, Israeli goods are often less expensive to Palestinians and Palestinian reliance upon such goods is increased.

Israel can easily improve the economy by simply removing its barriers and checkpoints and by allowing Palestinian goods to move based on international principles of ‘door-to-door’ wherein Palestinian goods are freely allowed to move without onerous security searches that are not imposed on Israeli goods.

By creating certainty among investors, the economy of the Gaza Strip can be revitalized and improved.  The World Bank is in agreement with this conclusion:  ‘Palestinian economic recovery depends on a radical easing of internal closures throughout the West Bank [and Gaza] the opening of Palestinian external borders to commodity trade, and sustaining a reasonable flow of Palestinian labor into Israel.’  See Disengagement, The Palestinian Economy and the Settlements’, the World Bank, June 15, 2004.

Will Palestinians remain subject to the same movement restrictions?

Currently, Palestinians require Israeli permits to travel:  (1) within the Occupied West Bank; (2) between the Occupied West Bank and the Occupied Gaza Strip and (3) to Israel.  Palestinians in the Gaza Strip also require Israeli permission to cross international boundaries to visit other countries.  Such permits are granted rarely (less than 30 percent of the Palestinian population receives such permits) and in the Occupied Gaza Strip, approximately 90 percent of the Palestinian population Under the Oslo Agreements, Israel was supposed to have instituted a ‘safe passage’ between the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to ensure freedom of movement for Palestinians within Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Passage through the ‘safe passage’ remained subject to strict Israeli control and in 2000 Israel closed the safe passage route thereby isolating the Occupied Gaza Strip from the rest of Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In order to ensure that Palestinians are not enclosed in a large prison, freedom of movement must be guaranteed.  Yet, while Israel asserts that it wants to ‘disengage’ from the Occupied Gaza Strip, it wants to retain control over Palestinians and their economy.  Israel has yet to respond to whether freedom of movement for Palestinians will be guaranteed: whether Palestinians will be able to travel to the rest of Occupied Palestinian Territory and whether Palestinians will continue to require Israeli permission to leave the Gaza Strip and whether Palestinians will be able to freely travel throughout the Occupied West Bank.

While many discussions have taken place on the mode for transportation (sunken road, railroad, convoy), these discussions remain inconclusive.

With respect to the Rafah terminal (movement to Egypt), talks also remain inconclusive:  While the Palestinians continue to insist on no Israeli presence in the Rafah terminal (and hence allow for the free movement of Palestinians), Israel has yet to agree.

What will be the international legal status of the evacuated areas following the evacuation?

The Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank will remain occupied territory.  Israel will still be subject to international obligations embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention and in various human rights agreements.

For 38 years Israel has carried out two projects in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip:  (1) colonization of the areas through the construction of Israeli-only housing and roads and (2) military occupation of the areas through the imposition of Israeli military law on the areas and its inhabitants.  While the colonization process may cease in the Occupied Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, the military occupation will continue.

What will happen to the airport?

The Palestinian International Airport was opened in 1998 by Presidents Clinton and Arafat and serviced Palestinians seeking to fly in and out of the Occupied Gaza Strip.  The airport operated under the strict control of Israel.  In 2000, the Israeli Army closed the airport and several months later destroyed the runway and control tower, with estimated damages exceeding more than USD $8 million.  It has remained closed.

Following Israel’s evacuation, the Palestinian Authority seeks to open the airport, but, to date, discussions with Israel have been inconclusive.

Can’t the greenhouses based in the colonies be used as a means of job creation?

The greenhouses in the colonies produce ‘organic’ food that is exported to European markets.  The greenhouses are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government and water is shipped in from Israel owing to the polluted nature of the Gaza coastal aquifer.  The greenhouses currently employ approximately 4,000 Palestinians.  While, on face level, it may seem like a good idea for these greenhouses to be maintained, unless the free movement of the goods produced in these greenhouses can be guaranteed and unless the subsidies can be maintained, the greenhouses will be worthless.

What will happen to the Erez Industrial Estate?

The fate of the Erez Industrial Estate (‘EIE’) remains in the hands of Israel.  Currently, goods produced in the EIE do not undergo any security or other searches before entering the Israeli markets.  After the evacuation, the EIE will revert to the Palestinian public domain and, according to Israeli officials, goods produced there will be subject to Israeli searches as well as the existing ‘back-to-back’ system for the movement of Palestinian goods.  This will undoubtedly discourage investment and likely kill the prospects of the EIE (or any industrial area). If the Palestinian economy is to recover, Israel’s control over the Palestinian economy will have to cease:  the back-to-back system will have to be replaced immediately with the ‘door-to-door’ system of movement that allows goods to reach their destination without the senseless unload/reload system employed by Israel.

But isn’t the evacuation of colonies a good thing?

The evacuation and dismantlement of Israel’s colonies is always welcomed (owing to the fact that these colonies are one of the reasons that the Palestinians are denied their freedom).  However, there are two parts to Israel’s plan:  one entails the evacuation of colonies (but the maintenance of Israeli military control over the area) and the second entails the continued colonization of the West Bank.  It is irresponsible to simply focus on one side of the equation while ignoring the other.  So, while the Palestinians may be pleased that the colonization of the Gaza Strip is coming to an end, it is clear that the colonization of the West Bank will be intensified.  It is also clear that the military occupation of both areas will remain. 

Therefore while there is much fanfare regarding Israel’s evacuation, real applause should be withheld until Israel completely ends its military occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip.  Until that time, Israel should be punished for its ongoing violations of international law and human rights – not rewarded.

* Diana Buttu is the Communications Director to the Palestinian Technical Team.