The Gaza withdrawal marks the first time since the 1967 Six Day War that Israel has surrendered territories claimed by Palestinians as part of their future state, but there are still many unanswered questions. Will Hamas take control of Gaza or will Abbas manage to instill a rule of law? These are the two big unknowns. However, the bigger question is how does disengagement from Gaza affect the US-Israeli alliance?

The Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank have always been a source of tension between America and Israel ever since Israel gained control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967. The ties between the two countries have become tighter over the years especially since 9/11 as Victor Davis Hanson comments, "in a world that is almost uniformly opposed to the democratic Jewish state, Israel has no better friend than Bush."[1] The other side of the coin is that those who think that the relationship is too tight will try to compromise the friendship, as Congressman John Bryant from Dallas suggested in 1991, by withholding aid from Israel unless she froze all construction in the settlements. All this was done in order to promote his bill, where Bryant claimed he wanted, "to protect the people of Israel from the extreme policies of the Likud government."[2]

Interestingly enough, one can tell how the US administration felt about the settlements according to the language it used to describe them.

  • The Johnson administration referred to settlements as, "civilian or quasi-civilian outposts in the occupied areas."
  • The Nixon administration referred to settlements as, "occupied area."
  • The Ford administration referred to settlements as, "occupied territories."
  • The Carter administration referred to settlements as, "settlements."
  • The Reagan administration referred to settlements as, "settlements."
  • The George H.W. Bush administration referred to settlements as, "occupying power in the occupied territories, which includes the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights."
  • The Clinton administration referred to settlements as, "settlements."
  • The George W. Bush administration referred to settlements as, "settlements."

When the phrase settlement is used it connotes an acceptance, not always an agreement, that the Israeli government has the right to act any way it sees fit to protect the safety and security of Israeli citizens. As Nadav Safran explains, "[Israel developed] the hedgehog-settlement system, intended to provide Israel with some ‘strategic depth' to compensate for the lack of territorial depth."[3] The other phrases translated into the post-1967 era, where America and the world came to terms with Israel as a true military force. Lyndon Johnson's 1968 agreement to sell Phantom jets to Israel illustrated this change.

And in late 1967, then Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol created the foundation for Israeli-Jewish settlements to form a Jewish buffer zone on Israel's southwestern border. This was followed by the government's initial decision to establish settlements in Gaza in June of 1970; and, in 1972, Israel created two army posts which later became Netzarim and Kfar Darom, the two settlements that Ariel Sharon thought would be in Israeli hands "forever."[4]

Though the US might not always agree with Israel's actions, the alliance between the two countries is deep and broad as well as varied, from social, economic to defense ties. These serve as the building blocks for the continuing friendship. And even now when Israel undergoes a monumental change that is affecting the very fabric of Israeli society, the ties must be secured. Moreover, the terror threat is still on the table and it is not going away because Israel is disengaging from the Gaza Strip. We must make sure that the residents of Gaza who are now sacrificing their homes are not doing so in vain. And those Palestinians who are celebrating are not expressing the same type of joy they expressed when the towers fell in 9/11. What makes the current Bush administration standout more than former American administrations is Bush's policies towards the Middle East, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to the fight against radical Islam. This is what convinced Sharon that he has a true friend in the White House. That said now we must bolster support to prevent Gaza from becoming a training camping for Islamists.


[3] Safran, Nadav. Israel the Embattled Ally, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978, P. 236.