Several senior Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum attended a conference marking 10 years since the expulsion of Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria Tuesday.
The 2005 "Disengagement Plan" saw some 10,000 Jews expelled from their homes in Gush Katif (Gaza) and four villages in northern Samaria. Right-wing politicians warned the move would result in increased terrorism and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians – a reality which materialized shortly after, with Hamas's takeover of the coastal enclave.
Among those speaking at the conference was Opposition Leader and Zionist Union party chairman Yitzhak Herzog, who told the audience he agreed the Disengagement was a "mistake."
However, Herzog said he did believe Israel should have left Gaza – but that it should not have been done "unilaterally." Instead, he insisted territorial concessions should only be made as part of a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
"What occurred [in Gush Katif – ed.] was a rare act in the course of our nation. We came to our brothers and sisters and told them to leave their homes. It was painful, and the pain was terribly harsh," Herzog said.
However, he also hailed the strength of those who were expelled in striving to rebuild their lives – despite the government's mishandling of their resettlement.
"And with the passage of 10 years there has been a great renewal – here as well in Nitzan," Herzog said, referring to the southern town just north of Ashkelon where many Gush Katif refugees resettled, and where Tuesday's Katif Conference took place.
Paying tribute to the pioneering role played by Gush Katif refugees in settling and developing previously-uninhabited parts of the Negev, Herzog added: "With all the difficulties… you see development which shows the strength of the communities, and this I salute."
"The question has been raised as to whether from a security perspective it (the Disengagement) was a mistake. It was indeed a mistake, because it is not possible to uphold one-sided agreements," Herzog stated.
As some audience members heckled him on his own party's stance, which favors territorial concessions to the PA as part of negotiations, he responded that for him it was an issue of pragmatism, not principle.
"I do not have any desire to evacuate parts of the Land (of Israel)," he said. "It is very dear to my heart."
But, he insisted, "the Disengagement was not a mistake from a demographic perspective," echoing the line of many on the Left that Israel has no choice but to give up land to avoid losing its Jewish majority.
"The dilemma has existed with us for years. Sharon did an experiment – he said there was no one to talk with and embarked on a one-sided process.
"That's why it can only be done via a (mutual) agreement, and with a true understanding of both the risks and the potential."