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Why is Israel pulling out settlers from Gaza, West Bank?

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The Israeli military has not released a schedule for redeployment because it wants to reserve "an element" of surprise, according to an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) official. The smaller and less ideologically right-wing settlements, viewed as easier to evacuate, were originally said to be first, but now the order may be inverted, with more religious settlements evacuated first. However, a cabinet vote last week gave Sharon the go ahead for evacuating three isolated settlements: Netzarim, Kfar Darom, and Morag.

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Israeli officials say that if disengagement goes smoothly, they will have the settlements evacuated in two to three weeks. The four small West Bank settlements will be removed in early September.

Will disengagement restart peace talks or improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians?

Although there aren't formal peace talks, Israeli and Palestinian officials have been meeting regularly in an attempt to agree on security arrangements as part of the disengagement.

The Palestinian Authority has agreed to place a protective human wall of 5,000 Palestinian security officers around the settlements, which would be a buffer to an adjacent ring of Israeli soldiers. Palestinians, under the arrangements, will not enter these areas until all settlements and military installations have been dismantled. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has called Palestinians to act with restraint, and has asked Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad not to fire on the Israeli army or settlers during the disengagement process.

Why are so many Israelis against the disengagement plan?

Actually, about 60 percent of Israelis support disengagement, according to a recent poll by Tel Aviv University. Thirty percent of respondents were opposed.

While the majority support the plan, many Israelis feel that Gaza is part of the land of Israel, promised in the Bible to the Jewish people. Others view the issue more strategically, arguing that Israel is giving up territory without getting any peace guarantees or other reciprocal moves from the Palestinians. Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister who resigned from Sharon's Cabinet last week in protest of the pullout, said the withdrawal would make Gaza "a huge base for terror."

How does this pullout compare to other times that Israel has withdrawn from the Occupied Territory?

Israel has never withdrawn from territory it won in war without a peace agreement. The Oslo Accords in the mid-1990s never specified what was to happen with settlements in the West Bank and Gaza because that and other thorny issues were left to the final status talks, which fell apart in the fall of 2000. However, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995, gave indications that Israel would eventually withdraw from Gaza and would annex large, heavily populated Israeli settlements in the West Bank, evacuating the small and remote ones.

The disengagement of four small settlements in the northern West Bank will mark the first time Israel is withdrawing settlements in that territory, not including "illegal settlement outposts" - often clusters of mobile homes - that several prime ministers have ordered removed.

What is Egypt's role in the process?
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