The Political-International Challenges of the Disengagement Plan

The Disengagement Plan contains political and international aspects that need to be considered by policymakers if legitimacy is to be given to the Plan by third partes.

This paper addresses the political-international aspects of PM Sharon's Disengagement Plan. In this regard, the Plan has two primary objectives: to end Israel’s responsibility / "occupation" of the Gaza Strip and to increase Israel’s international legitimacy.

The Disengagement Plan calls for withdrawal of Israeli military and civilian presence from the Gaza Strip and parts of Northern West Bank.

At the same time, the Disengagement Plan is subject to four predominant constraints: unilateralism, Israeli control of the perimeter of Gaza, no 3rd party mandate and no to Palestinian Statehood.

Hence, at this point, the essence of the Disengagement Plan seems to be an on-the-ground redeployment of forces and dismantling of settlements leaving the political status of the areas disengaged from ambiguous.

This paper draws the following conclusions:

  • The Israeli objective of achieving international recognition of End-of-Occupation status may be a costly endeavor with low probability of success. This is due to the combination of Israeli control of the perimeter of Gaza and the subsequent responsibilities it creates, as well as Israel’s reluctance to allow for a new political status to emerge in the areas disengaged from.
  • Israel may reach the end-state of the Disengagement Plan with limited, if any, international legitimacy gains. This is due to the international community’s perception of Israel’s reluctance to negotiate, retaliations to probable terrorism and the lengthy implementation time.

Scope

This paper analyzes the international political aspects of the end-state of PM Sharon’s Disengagement Plan (the Plan).

The paper does not deal with the on-the-ground changes or challenges.

It attempts to evaluate two of the Plan's objectives – to increase Israel’s international legitimacy and to end Israel’s responsibility for the territories being unilaterally disengaged from.

Document Structure

This document consists of three parts addressing the following questions:

  1. What will be the Political Status of the Gaza Strip and areas in the Northern West Bank from which Israel disengages?
  2. What are the potential international legitimacy gains during and after the Disengagement Plan?
  3. What are the challenges in achieving End-of-Occupation status for the territories disengaged from?

Background

In essence, the disengagement plan consists of primarily on-the-ground redeployment of forces and dismantling of settlements. The Plan calls for withdrawal of Israeli military and civilian presence from the Gaza Strip and parts of the Northern West Bank (hereinafter “areas disengaged from”) by the end of 2005.1

The Plan does not go as far as addressing the political end-state created in its aftermath.

The current Plan has the following working assumptions:

  • Unilateralism – no negotiation with the Palestinians on issues of political rights (although negotiations on technical arrangements are held).
  • Israeli control of the perimeter of Gaza – the air, sea and border with Egypt.
  • No 3rd party mandate – no transfer of political responsibilities to 3rd parties.
  • No to Palestinian Statehood coming into being in the areas disengaged from.

What is the Political Status of the Gaza Strip and Northern West Bank after the Disengagement plan?

According to the current Disengagement Plan, the political status of the areas disengaged from remains ambiguous:

  • No Palestinian statehood - At present, Israel refuses to discuss the permanent political status of these areas i.e. the creation of a Palestinian State.
  • No 3rd Party Responsibility – At present, Israel refuses to accept the assumption of responsibilities for these areas by 3rd parties.
  • Not Area B or Area C – Ending Israel’s responsibility towards these areas means that these areas are not Area B (Israeli security responsibility) or Area C (full Israeli responsibility) according to the “Interim Agreement”.

Area A? – Israel’s expectations that the Palestinian authority will expand its overall responsibility to these areas implies that the areas are treated as Area A (full Palestinian responsibility) according to the Interim Agreement. However, as Israel remains ambiguous about the application of the Interim Agreement, a political vacuum may develop whereby the responsibilities of the Palestinian side are not explicitly defined.

This ambiguity of the political status of the areas disengaged from is aggravated due to two additional dynamics:

  1. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are a Single Territorial Unit2 – according to the existing agreements, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are a single territorial unit. According to the Plan, the political status of Gaza and the Northern West Bank will be different than that of the rest of the West Bank.
  2. Control of the External Perimeter – at present, Israel seeks to maintain control over the external perimeter of the Gaza Strip including the airspace, the sea and the Philadelphi Route on Gaza’s border with Egypt. This control undermines Israel's attempt to end its responsibility for the Gaza Strip.

As demonstrated, the current disengagement plan makes no reference to the political status of the areas disengaged from. This ambiguity may jeopardize the Plan's two stated political objectives: increasing Israel’s international legitimacy3 and achieving end-of-occupation status4.

What may be potential International Legitimacy gains following the Plan?

Israel may reach the end-state of the Plan with limited, if any, international legitimacy gains. Although it may seem to the Israeli public that Israel is making significant concessions toward ending occupation, Israel may not enjoy additional international legitimacy. This is due to:

  • The Plan’s lengthy implementation may erode international legitimacy - the Plan may be “old news” by the time it is completed at the end of 2005, due to short-term memory of the international community.
  • International public perception of use-of-force – Israel may be exposed to the threat of increased terrorism towards the evacuation of its forces and civilians. Subsequent Israeli retaliation will erode international legitimacy.
  • Increased pressure to negotiate – as Israel demonstrates its determination to disengage at high political costs while possibly undermining the Palestinian moderate forces, its reluctance to negotiate may be interpreted as having ulterior motives, not acting in good faith and thus lose international legitimacy.
  • The Convergence Plan – This phenomenon is characterized by the convergence of a wide variety of groups, brought together by their fundamental de-legitimization of the Jewish nature of the State of Israel. These groups converge on a specific issue detrimental to Israel as a means of attacking Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish State. The continued state of occupation in the West Bank, the security fence and the implementation challenges of the Plan may provide ample issues to converge on, focusing the international attention away from the Israeli concessions and thereby eroding Israel’s international legitimacy.

What are the challenges in achieving End-of-Occupation status for the areas disengaged from?

Under the present Plan, the Israeli objective of achieving international recognition of End-of-Occupation status for the Gaza Strip may be a costly endeavor with low probability of success.

  • · Control Means Responsibility Means Occupation – there is a direct relationship between control and responsibility. As long as Israel controls the External Perimeter, air, sea and border crossings, the claim for having ended occupation is weakened. De-facto control leads to de-facto responsibility (i.e. occupation).
  • No clear precedent for end-of-occupation – without an internationally recognized declaration of Palestinian Independence, negotiated agreement or an internationally mandated 3rd party assuming control, the status of the Gaza Strip will remain ambiguous. There is no clear process to grant end-of-occupation status and a new international precedent will have to be set.
  • Multilateral Negotiation – To achieve the End-of-Occupation status, Israel may be forced to negotiate with a variety of 3rd parties (such as the World Bank, UN, US or EU) over the benchmarks for "End-of-Occupation". Thus, a unilateral move may be dragged into a negotiated channel through 3rd parties who are forced to represent Palestinian interests thereby compromising the unilateral nature of the Plan.
  • The Concept of Viable Palestinian State - The concept of a viable Palestinian State has been adopted into the international discourse5. This concept is now being extended to include the Gaza Strip in the context of the disengagement plan. The benchmark of viability creates a constantly rising bar, currently seen as a minimum, though not sufficient, requirement for End-of-Occupation.

Hence, at the end of the disengagement plan Israel may find itself having withdrawn under fire but criticized for retaliating, subjected to international criticism for not negotiating, garnering low, if any, international legitimacy and still perceived as the occupying and responsible entity in Gaza.

The End-State of the Disengagement Plan – a struggle over framing?

The vague political status of the areas Israel disengages from may force Israel to engage in a struggle over the framing of the End-State of the Disengagement Plan. Israel may claim that the occupation has ended while others may present an “occupation-as-usual” case. Each side will attempt to convince the international community of its narrative or framing of the status and interpretation of the events.

Conclusions

The Disengagement Plan, under the present constraints (i.e. unilateralism, control of the perimeter, no 3rd parties responsibility and no Palestinian Statehood), may not achieve its stated objectives of ending Israel’s responsibility / occupation of Gaza and gaining international legitimacy.



1 As discussed by PM Sharon in his letter to President Bush: “…the main principles of the Disengagement Plan... represent an independent Israeli plan... according to this plan, the State of Israel intends to relocate military installations and all Israeli villages and towns in the Gaza Strip, as well as other military installations and a small number of villages in Samaria…”.See The Exchange of Letters Concerning the Disengagement Plan.
2 For example, see Declaration of Principles article IV – “Jurisdiction”.
3 The Original Unilateral Disengagement Plan dated April 14 2004, claims that “The process of disengagement will serve to dispel claims regarding Israel's responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip” (article 1-vi).
4 End-of-Occupation status was explicitly defined in the Original Unilateral Disengagement Plan dated April 14 2004 “as a result of it [the disengagement plan], there will be no basis to the claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied land” (article 2-i-3)
5 The concept of a “Viable State” has been incorporated into President “Bush’s Vision to the Middle East”, the Quartet Roadmap and even in the letters exchanged between PM Sharon and President Bush concerning the Disengagement Plan.