January 3, 2004
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon orders the Israel Defense Forces to remove two illegal Jewish outposts, Tal Binyamin and Havat Maon, from the West Bank. The announcement is unpopular on the right — the Settlers’ Council says the outposts are part of the “struggle for the future of Zionism” — and the left — critics call the gesture meaningless and note it falls far short of a promise Sharon made to U.S. President George W. Bush six months earlier to dismantle 100 such outposts.
Still, Sharon’s decision reflects a shift in his position on Jewish settlements in the areas Israel captured in the 1967 war. The former general made support for the settlement movement a core element of his political program for decades. In 1977 he said he had a plan to settle 2 million Jews in the West Bank by 2000, undermining Palestinians’ hopes to establish their own state. But in 2003 he presented his plan for disengagement from the Gaza Strip, a proposal that wins approval later in 2004.
The IDF begins the forced withdrawal of all 8,000 Jews living in the 21 Gaza Strip settlements in August 2005, and the army evacuates from Gaza. The Gaza disengagement is seen as a test for a possible withdrawal from the West Bank, but Sharon suffers a coma-inducing stroke in early January 2006, ending his political career.