SUMMER 2005 marked a double victory for Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon. His disengagement plan to remove the Jewish settlements from Gaza and the northern West Bank was carried out swiftly and smoothly, disproving scary predictions of widespread violence and disobedience. Israel's military and police forces maintained their integrity, and not a single shot was fired during the forced evacuation of inhabitants from 25 settlements. Israel has shown a skeptical world that it can successfully confront its right-wing settler movement when the national interest requires it.
Throughout the two-year disengagement process, Sharon has kept the majority of the public, the military and the government bureaucracy rallied behind him to overcome considerable political hurdles. His settler opponents filled the country with their orange ribbons but failed to win active support beyond their core group. Their failure to reach out to the mainstream doomed their protest. By mid-September, the last Israeli soldier had left Gaza.
Shortly afterwards, Sharon beat his challenger for prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who resigned as treasury minister and tried to ride the anti-Sharon wave in the ruling Likud Party. The Likud central committee voted down Netanyahu's bid for an early leadership contest. Using his characteristic mixture of threats and temptations, Sharon won by a small margin.