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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 14:48 GMT
Sharon's motives for Gaza pullout
By the BBC's Matt Prodger

A settler family walks past a soldier in Netzarim settlement in Gaza
Settlers describe the pullout as a "betrayal" by Ariel Sharon
When Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a plan to evacuate virtually all of some 7,500 Jewish settlers from Gaza, a casual observer may have found grounds for optimism.

But it is not that simple.

The loudest voices of protest have come, naturally, from the settlers themselves.

For many years Ariel Sharon has been known as the champion of the settlers.

He encouraged them, memorably, to populate every hilltop.

The settler representatives took to the airwaves in the wake of his announcement to denounce the plan as madness, a betrayal, a capitulation in the face of terrorism.

Others said the evacuation would never happen, that Mr Sharon was simply doing a bit of political manoeuvring for the benefit of the international community.

And they have a point. Ariel Sharon agreed to freeze settlements and remove smaller outposts as part of the US-backed peace roadmap.

He has only dismantled a handful of outposts.

Cool reception

But the Palestinians should be delighted, shouldn't they?

For them the settlements are hated symbols of Israeli occupation and those in Gaza in particular have come under frequent attack.

Ariel Sharon
Some say Sharon is trying to divert attention from corruption claims
Ariel Sharon has said he is working on the assumption that there will be no Jews in Gaza in the future.

Palestinian officials say they will believe it when they see it. And they distrust his motives.

An opinion poll published in an Israeli newspaper suggested that 59% of Israelis support Ariel Sharon's plan.

But members of his own right-wing coalition government do not.

He would have to get the approval of his own cabinet and the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, before it could go ahead.

On Monday he survived a no-confidence motion by just a single vote.

The Israeli left, meanwhile, says the plan has been announced to distract attention from a number of corruption investigations into Ariel Sharon.

And the White House has not given the plan a warm reception.

Officials were quoted as saying they will see how compatible it is with the peace roadmap backed by the international community.

Unilateral moves

So what is his motive?

In December Ariel Sharon announced that unless the Palestinians clamped down on violence, he would abandon the roadmap and instead begin the unilateral disengagement of Israel from Palestinian territory.

In other words, Israel would impose its own borders with the Palestinians, without negotiation.

And that would involve withdrawing from Gaza and the West Bank those settlements which Israel can least afford to protect.

Later this month he is widely expected to brief President Bush in Washington on his plans. And Israel's deputy prime minister has said the evacuation of some settlements could begin this summer.

The Palestinians say they will not allow Israel to dictate which land they can keep.

They see the construction of Israel's new barrier as an attempt to impose a border that in many places goes far into Palestinian territory, diminishing the size of any future Palestinian state.

What Ariel Sharon sees as a possible solution, they see as a reason to continue the intifada.


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