[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 20 February, 2005, 18:18 GMT
Q&A: Sharon's Gaza plan
Israeli PM Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon: Motives have been questioned
Israel's cabinet has given final approval to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to disengage from the majority-Palestinian Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

The proposal has proved extremely controversial, both with the Palestinians - who object to the action being unilateral - and with Mr Sharon's centre-right Likud party, Jewish settlers and their allies.

The plan had already been passed by the Israeli parliament, but the endorsement from cabinet means the government will send letters to settlers in Gaza and four West Bank settlements, telling them evacuation will go ahead this summer.

How is the disengagement plan supposed to work?

Under the plan, Gaza's 8,000 Jewish settlers and the soldiers that protect them will be withdrawn. Four small West Bank settlements will also be given up.

Withdrawal is scheduled to start on 20 July and take about eight weeks.

The Israeli parliament has adopted a law to compensate uprooted settlers.

The evacuations are to be carried out in phases. Under a deal with sceptical ministers, each phase will require approval with a cabinet vote.

How did Mr Sharon win cabinet support?

Mr Sharon fought for over a year, and finally won the vote 17-5 with the support of the centre-left Labour Party - which joined his coalition government in January 2005. The five No votes came from members of his Likud party, including Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Mr Sharon has had to manoeuvre aggressively, including dismissing some ministers and threatening to call early elections.

Some in his cabinet had threatened to resign unless he agreed to a public referendum. Mr Sharon felt confident of winning such a referendum, but was unwilling to accept the delay to his timetable.

The inclusion of Labour in the government put off possible elections and strengthened Mr Sharon's position, allowing him to win cabinet endorsement.

Are there any obstacles left?

Yes. Mr Sharon still needs to pass a budget by the end of March or his government will collapse, possibly taking the withdrawal plan down with it.

If the budget does not pass by the deadline, new elections will have to be held.

Mr Sharon, while now controlling 66 seats in the 120-member Knesset, still lacks a majority for the budget. This is because 17 of Likud's 40 deputies have vowed to vote against it, to mark their opposition to the Gaza plan.

Why has Mr Sharon proposed the plan?

The official reason for the disengagement plan - proposed when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was still alive - is that there is a stalemate and Israel should break it.

Mr Sharon and his supporters say getting out of Gaza will make Israel safer and may eventually revive the international peace plan, known as the roadmap, which proposes a two-state solution.

But some of Mr Sharon's closest associates have said that leaving Gaza is the price for Israel holding onto the large settlement blocks in the West Bank.

A key adviser to the prime minister, Dov Weisglass, said the significance of the plan is that it would freeze the political process and that once it was frozen, there could be no discussion about the establishment of a Palestinian state or negotiations about Palestinian refugees, borders or the status of Jerusalem.

Mr Sharon's office was quick to distance himself from the comments. But many Israelis and Palestinians believe they ring true and are more credible than the official reason.

Mr Sharon may also be trying to realign Israeli politics by moving the right-wing Likud party, which has traditionally claimed Gaza and the West Bank as part of the land of Israel, closer to the centre.

In detail, what does the plan entail?

It envisions the evacuation of about 8,000 Jewish settlers from 21 heavily-fortified enclaves in the Gaza Strip, which Israel has built up since capturing the territory in 1967.

This also means withdrawing the large numbers of Israeli troops who guard the settlements - which have frequently come under attack from Palestinian groups.

This, Mr Sharon says, is the best way to achieve security for Israelis in the absence of meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli forces will keep control of Gaza's land and sea borders and airspace, and will maintain the capability to re-enter Palestinian territory when it wants.

Four isolated Jewish settlements will also be evacuated in the northern West Bank, but Israel will cement its grip on dozens of other settlements there.

It will be the first time Israel has removed state-sanctioned settlements since it gave the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt in 1982.

Where does this leave the Palestinians?

They are in a difficult position. They welcome any removal of Israeli settlements, which cause great disruption in their lives.

But they are also furious that Israel has left them out of consultations on disengagement. They want a return to the roadmap.

Many Palestinians fear disengagement from Gaza is simply a smokescreen to allow Israel to hold onto as much territory as it can in the West Bank, while sacrificing the relatively insignificant Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials insist that is not the intention. Originally conceived as a unilateral measure, Mr Sharon now says he will co-ordinate the pullout with the new Palestinian leadership.

Mr Sharon refused to deal with Arafat, who died in November 2004, but the election of Mahmoud Abbas in January has led to renewed prospects for peace.

The two leaders declared a mutual ceasefire at a summit in Egypt on 8 February, formally signalling an end to the four-year Palestinian intifada, or uprising. If the ceasefire holds, it could set in motion a return to substantive peace negotiations on a final settlement, though this is some way off.

What is the current situation in the Gaza Strip?

The Gaza Strip has been occupied by Israel since it captured the territory from Egyptian control in the 1967 war.

Under the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, Israel handed over control of about 80% of the territory to the Palestinian Authority to administer. Israel retained control over 20% of the territory as well as the border crossings, whose status was to be determined by final-status negotiations.

During the intifada which began in autumn 2000, the Israeli army made repeated incursions into Gaza, killing hundreds of people and destroying swathes of houses and infrastructure.

Palestinian militants have repeatedly attacked the settlements and military outposts and launched numerous rocket attacks into a nearby Israeli towns, killing dozens of Israelis.

The 1.3m Palestinians of Gaza have been hit by crippling economic, social and developmental crises, with an estimated one-third of workers unemployed, and almost two-thirds living below the poverty line, according to the International Labour Organisation.

Israel and the Palestinians



Palestinian women sit on a roof top of the home of a Palestinian family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on 20 November 2006. Human shields
Palestinians adopt a new tactic to deter Israeli attacks, but this is a high-risk strategy





The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific