From Jerusalem Post Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World: Aug. 15, 2005 1:56 Updated Aug. 15, 2005 22:51 By HERB KEINON ...
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a brief speech Monday night to an anxious and torn country, said that while he had hoped Israel could keep the Gaza settlements forever, reality simply intervened.
...Sitting behind the desk of his Jerusalem office, in front of the national flag and bookcases graced with three pictures of his grandchildren, Sharon said that 'Gaza cannot be held onto forever. Over one million Palestinians live there, and they double their numbers with every generation. They live in incredibly cramped refugee camps, in poverty and squalor, in hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope whatsoever on the horizon.' ... the disengagement plan, which he unveiled some 19 months ago, 'is the Israeli answer to this reality.'
'It is out of strength and not weakness that we are taking this step,' he said...there were risks involved in the plan, but said it also held out 'a ray of hope for all of us.' ....'We are reducing the day-to-day friction and its victims on both sides. The IDF will redeploy on defensive
"They must fight terror organizations, dismantle its infrastructure and show sincere intentions of peace in order to sit with us at the negotiating table," Sharon said. "The world awaits the Palestinian response – a hand offered in peace or continued terrorist fire. To a hand offered in peace, we will respond with an olive branch. But if they chose fire, we will respond with fire, more severe than ever.
As anticipated, Sharon did not proffer an apology to the settlers who are to be evacuated, as President Moshe Katsav did last week. Rather, he praised the settlers for their years of sacrifice "....Your pain and your tears are an inseparable part of the history of this country. Whatever disagreements we have, we will not abandon you, and following the evacuation, we will do everything in our power to rebuild your lives and communities."
Sharon also addressed the soldiers and policemen who were to carry out the evacuation orders, reminding them that "it's not an enemy you face, rather your brothers and sisters. Sensitivity and patience are the order of the hour. I am certain that this is how you will behave. I want you to know the entire nation stands behind you and is proud of you."
Acknowledging that his plan has "caused severe wounds, bitter hatred between brothers and severe statements and actions," Sharon said that he understood "the feelings, the pain and the cries of those who object. However, we are one nation even when fighting and arguing."
"The responsibility for the future of Israel rests on my shoulders," he said. "I initiated the plan because I concluded that this action was vital for Israel. Believe me, the extent of pain that I feel at this act is equal only to the measure of resolved recognition that it was something that had to be done."
Following the broadcast of the speech, both Channel 1 and 2 gave equal time to Binyamin Netanyahu, Sharon's main political rival. In the Channel 2 interview, Netanyahu said that disengagement would lead to a terror base in Gaza. Netanyahu said that Israel must now make it clear to the Arabs and the world that disengagement represented a departure from Israel's policy, and that "we will not return to this path, we will not give something for nothing."
Netanyahu said that the pain of those evacuated from Yamit in 1982 was offset by the fact that Israel got something in return from the Egyptians. "We receive a peace agreement, security arrangements with the Egyptians. We got something. Here you are giving for nothing, and in return we will get terror. That is a double tragedy."
Shinui head Yosef Lapid criticized Sharon's speech, saying it contained nothing new and was void of the pathos that the moment demanded. "The prime minister didn't say anything new, didn't apologize, and stood behind his positions," Lapid said in an Israel Radio interview. "....Perhaps he could have expressed a little more emotion. ......"