Opinion

Israel Must Reexamine Why Northern Samaria Was Included in the 2005 Disengagement

What rationale or logic caused Ariel Sharon, the architect and patron of much of the Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines, to reverse course and decide on the disengagement plan?

The West Bank settlement of Ganim in 2005, the land where Ganim once stood in 2017.
Getty Images / Emil Salman

Yotam Berger’s article in Haaretz (“A quixotic battle for settlers’ ‘right of return’ in West Bank,” Nov. 17) brought back memories of the disengagement of August 2005, where hundreds of Israeli families were forcibly evicted from their homes. And the question still lingers in the air: why? What rationale or logic caused Ariel Sharon, the architect and patron of much of the Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines, to reverse course and decide on the eviction of the settlers in the Gaza Strip and in northern Samaria? And why did many of the Likud leadership at the time decide to follow Sharon and abandon their party and lend their support to the disengagement?

Gush Katif, the settlement bloc at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, was unlike Kfar Darom and Netzarim which were situated in the middle of the Gaza Strip. It constituted a relatively isolated settlement bloc. Three settlements – Dugit, Nisanit, and Elei Sinai – were another small settlement bloc located at the northern edge of the Gaza Strip.

Whereas the evacuation of Kfar Darom and Netzarim might have been justified by security considerations, why were the settlers of Gush Katif and those at the northern edge of the Gaza Strip forced out of their homes? Obviously there must have been some other consideration that prompted Sharon’s decision.

Some of those who were prepared to support the disengagement told Sharon that there was little reason to evacuate Dugit, Nisanit, and Elei Sinai, but he stuck to his guns and insisted that any and all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, right up to the 1949 armistice lines concluded with Egypt, would be evacuated. He was evidently eager to signal Israeli readiness to withdraw from the entire area occupied by the Egyptian Army when it attacked Israel in 1948. Was that supposed to serve as a precedent for future Israeli withdrawals from areas beyond the 1949 armistice lines? It is difficult to find any other rationale for this move.

But most puzzling of all was his decision to accompany the disengagement from the Gaza Strip by a removal of the Israeli settlements from northern Samaria – Kadim. Ganim, Homesh, and Sa-Nur. These settlements had no connection with the Gaza Strip; what could possibly be gained by this move? Was he indicating that this was only a beginning, and that all Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, anything beyond the 1949 armistice lines, were destined to be forcibly evacuated? His successor, Ehud Olmert, made no bones about his intention to proceed in that direction.

Since then, the term “settlement blocs” has entered the lexicon of the Israeli political discourse. Presumably all Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria were destined for evacuation except for the settlement blocs. But actually the only settlement blocs that had been established beyond the 1949 armistice lines had been the Gush Katif settlements and the settlements at the northern edge of the Gaza Strip and they had already been destroyed. Whereas a number of large Israeli settlements have been established in Judea and Samaria, notably Maale Adumim, and Ariel,they are not isolated settlement blocs and are surrounded by many Palestinian villages. Gush Etzion, the Etzion bloc, was a settlement bloc in pre-State days, but is now surrounded by heavily populated Palestinian areas. The desire to assure that large settlements be included within the borders of Israel in any future agreement with the Palestinians is understandable and justified, even if they do not constitute settlement blocs.

Much of the public support that existed at the time for the disengagement from Gaza has in the meantime evaporated. Subsequent events – the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the periodic rocketing of Israeli towns and villages from there – have exposed the senselessness of that move. Nevertheless, it is now an established fact.

Northern Samaria, unlike Gaza, is under IDF control. The reestablishment of all or part of the settlements in northern Samaria that were destroyed at the time needs to be examined.