Israeli Withdrawal From Gaza Explained

Map: Israeli-controlled areas in Gaza
By Jefferson Morley Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005; 10:36 AM

A brief explanation of Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip:

What is the Gaza Strip?

Gaza is a small strip of land, approximately 25 miles long and six miles wide, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. For the past 38 years, it has been controlled by Israel. It is home to more than 8,500 Jewish settlers and approximately 1.3 million Palestinians.

Why is Israel withdrawing from Gaza?

In announcing the "Disengagement Plan" in December 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the withdrawal was to increase security of residents of Israel, relieve pressure on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, claims that the withdrawal is the result of violent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.

What is the withdrawal plan?

Starting Aug. 15, tens of thousands of Israeli troops will oversee the evacuation of the settlers from 21 different communities in Gaza and four smaller settlements in the West Bank. They will assist settlers with moving their belongings as well. Some Palestinian security forces will also participate. On Aug. 17, settlers who have not voluntarily left will be forcibly removed and may lose personal property, according to IDF commanders. Israeli soldiers will then demolish settlers' homes.

Why is it controversial?

Many, but not all, Jewish residents of Gaza believe that the land is part of what they call "Eretz Yisrael" -- Greater Israel -- and thus biblically ordained for Jews. Other Israelis believe that withdrawal will not make Israel more secure from Palestinian attack. Some settlers, backed by supporters from outside Gaza, say they will not leave voluntarily on Aug. 15, raising the prospect of violent clashes between the IDF and Israeli citizens. The withdrawal marks the first time since Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 that it has relinquished Jewish settlements to Arab control.

Who favors the withdrawal?

Public opinion polls show that around 60 percent of Israelis and virtually all Palestinians support the withdrawal.

Who opposes the withdrawal?

Israel's right-wing and religious parties are most opposed to the withdrawal. Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a member of Sharon's Likud Party, resigned in early August in protest, the highest ranking Israeli official to do so. He said that withdrawal does not require reciprocal concessions by the Palestinians. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers who object to the withdrawal have been excused from duties.

What will happen after the evacuation?

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) will administer Gaza while Israel will continue to control its borders, coastline and airspace. The biggest change for Palestinians will be that the tight travel restrictions that Israel has imposed within the territory will be lifted. The Palestinians hope to build apartment buildings on the site of the demolished Israeli homes.

How will the withdrawal affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The Israeli government expects the withdrawal will reduce Palestinian attacks on Jewish citizens. The Israeli Foreign Ministry says that the withdrawal shows that Israel is willing to make significant concessions for peace. The PNA, while welcoming the dismantling of the settlements, says that the withdrawal is a unilateral move designed to consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank where the majority of Palestinians live.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company