The disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the State of Israel. For the first time since the Six-Day War, the government of Israel decided on a unilateral disengagement from territories occupied in the Six-Day War, unconditionally and without an agreement. In implementing the plan, the government diverged dramatically from clear political and security doctrines that evolved following the war and served as cornerstones of Israel’s foreign and defense policies:
- Withdrawal from territory without an agreement, contrary to the “land for peace” formula;
- Withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 border in the Gaza Strip;
- Revoking the principle of the security importance of territory, including the need for a physical buffer between Gaza and Egypt;
- Abandoning the importance of the value of settlement, from a security and Zionist standpoint.
Unilateral disengagement was adopted as a conflict management strategy after five years of violent confrontation with the Palestinians following the failure of the Oslo process. One may, to a large degree, view unilateral disengagement as the outcome of the failure to manage the violent conflict with the Palestinians. The fact that the plan was conceived, decided upon and carried out by prime minister Ariel Sharon, who was considered the father of the settlement program for the territories occupied in 1967, raised many questions as to the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The disengagement plan, which led to the uprooting of some 8,000 settlers and 25 settlements, sparked a personal, ideological-identity, social and political crisis, one of the harshest ever seen by Israeli society. The prime minister himself, Sharon, defined the decision as the most difficult decision of his life. In light of the importance and unique nature of the disengagement event, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University have joined forces in order to address a number of issues related to the phenomenon of disengagement and its ramifications, and a multidisciplinary research group was formed for this purpose. The group members were asked to confront the issue within their area of research expertise, and emphasis was placed on the attempt to combine the analysis of the disengagement phenomenon with its implications for Israeli society. We did not, of course, deal with all the relevant issues, preferring to focus on just a few that appeared to us the most important. The study consists of eight chapters, and was assembled in a number of stages: Meetings of the research group, presenting the study chapters in a closed workshop and in a public conference, and following these stages, the final consolidation of the study.