JERUSALEM Ñ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has received the first
comprehensive draft of a plan for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip,
a study in which his advisors envision stark consequences in wake of any
The report, drafted by a panel headed by National Security Adviser Maj.
Gen. Giora Eiland, raises the prospect of Palestinian insurgency groups
the airport and sea ports in the Gaza Strip to smuggle anti-aircraft
missiles and heavy weapons.
Other scenarios raised in the report include widespread unrest in the
Gaza Strip amid Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian laborers into the
Jewish state. The report also raised the prospect that an Israeli withdrawal
from the Gaza Strip would bolster irredentist trends in the Israeli Arab
community, which comprise nearly 20 percent of the Jewish state.
The draft was discussed on Thursday by Sharon during his more than
three-hour meeting with U.S. National Security Council members Elliot Abrams
and Stephen Hadley and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns. The U.S.
visit was part of the Bush administration's efforts to win a series of
commitments from Sharon that any unilateral withdrawal would not destabilize
"Everything that is raised must be consonant with the Bush plan and this
has been agreed upon," Amos Gilad, head of the Israeli Defense Ministry's
political-military unit, said.
Officials said Sharon sought to gauge the extent of U.S. economic and
political support for the Israeli unilateral withdrawal plan. They said the
administration has been cautious in its response and suggested that Israel
draft a plan for a withdrawal from most of the West Bank as well as the
entire Gaza Strip.
[On Friday, the Egyptian state-owned Al Ahram daily reported that Israel
intends to begin the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West
Bank by July 2004. Earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, during
his visit to Cairo, briefed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the Sharon
The Eiland draft Ñ first detailed in the Israeli daily Maariv on
Thursday Ñ did not support Sharon's drive for a full withdrawal from the
Gaza Strip. Instead, the draft envisioned Israeli retention of the northern
Gaza Strip, where three Israeli communities are located, as well as a
bolstered military presence along the Egyptian border near the southern Gaza
town of Rafah.
The draft also called on Sharon to offer the United States the
dismantling of up to 20 Israeli communities in the West Bank in an effort to
form a viable Palestinian state.
The Eiland report presented a range of threats that could emerge from a
unilateral withdrawal. Threat scenarios included the bolstering of
groups and their motivation to attack Israel; a decline of the Palestinian
Authority and its replacement by Hamas; the enhancement of the Palestinian
weapons industry, particularly the extension of the range of the
Kassam-class short-range missile.
Other scenarios raised by the plan included damage to Israel's
intelligence-gathering capabilities as well as the collapse of basic
services in the Gaza Strip. The draft warned that Israel would be blamed for
any humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian areas.
Eiland and his team appeared concerned over the prospect that Israel
would also lose considerable military capabilities and still remain under
heavy international pressure. Any pullout, the draft said, must be linked to
an agreement by Washington and its allies that they would end pressure on
Israel for further withdrawal until the Palestinians agree to peace with and
full security for the Jewish state. The draft also recommended an
international commitment to press the Palestinians to dismantle the
"I believe that the backing of the U.S. to this plan is very important
for us," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said after meeting U.S.
Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on Thursday. "And I described
all the positive issues regarding to this plan that the prime minister is
leading in this time."
In a preamble to the report, Sharon outlined his aims for a unilateral
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. They included a long-term improvement in
Israel's security and increase in international support for the Jewish
state. Sharon was said to have urged that any withdrawal must be conducted
in a way that does not appear as if Israel was surrendering to insurgency