Monday Israel starts pulling out of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the West Bank. After it's cleared, the land will be handed over to Palestinian control. Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ilene Prusher explains how - and why - this will happen.
In the midst of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to promote disengagement as Israel's best way of extricating itself from the conflict and decreasing its vulnerability to terrorism.
Mr. Sharon endorsed a view Israel's left-wing has argued for years: Being in some parts of the Occupied Territories was more of a security liability than an asset. And, for the first time ever, Sharon said in 2003 that he wanted to end the occupation.
"It is not possible to continue holding 3-1/2 million people under occupation," he told Likud members in May 2003. "You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation. This is a terrible thing for Israel, for the Palestinians, and for the Israeli economy."
Israel occupied the territories after taking control of Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli political figures - Sharon foremost among them - argued for building settlements in the territories to achieve several goals. The settlements would create "facts on the ground" that would make it impossible for Israel to turn the disputed lands over to the Palestinians. And the settlements might also, in the long term, populate the territories with enough Israelis to warrant annexation.
The settlements and settlers were also viewed as a security buffer against future invasions. The first settlement in Gaza, Kfar Darom, was set up in 1970.
After 1993, when Israel and the Palestinians reached a peace accord after the first intifada, Israel pulled out of all populated areas of Gaza, withdrawing only to settlements and military installations.
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