momentous step in the Middle East
ISRAEL'S PULLOUT FROM GAZA DESERVES
SUPPORT OF ALL
news that Israel will offer financial incentives to Jewish settlers
who leave the Gaza Strip voluntarily is a positive sign that Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon fully intends to follow through on the evacuation of that
conflicted parcel of land. The decision to leave Gaza has already cost
the Israeli leader dearly by causing deep fractures within his ruling
coalition and generating accusations of betrayal from the settler movement.
Even so, he seems
determined to plow ahead because it had become evident to all but the
most irreconcilable diehards that the settlements could not endure.
The pitfalls of
the disengagement plan are all too obvious. The most disturbing is the
possibility that Gaza can become a haven for Hamas and other Islamic
terrorists. That's why the decision by Egypt to support the move by
stepping up its security presence along the border with Gaza and sending
Egyptians into Gaza to train their security counterparts should be applauded.
The Egyptians are
sending a signal that the Israeli move, far from being some sort of
devious plan, is a welcome development that deserves the support of
all Arabs who want to see a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Most significant, it suggests that, after a period of ambivalence, Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak now attaches more importance to good relations
with Israel than to the complaints of Islamic hard-liners.
Mr. Sharon's decision
was no doubt difficult for a man known as the godfather of the settler
movement. In the end, however, he came to realize that the desires of
7,500 settlers cannot drive either Israeli policy or Israel's security
To assuage hard-liners,
Mr. Sharon agreed to take a separate Cabinet vote before dismantling
the 21 settlements in Gaza early next year. We hope that in the ensuing
period, he can muster the needed support to persuade Israeli leaders
that the disengagement from Gaza is in Israel's best interest.
For more than half
a century, Israelis and Palestinians have waged an unceasing battle
for control of the precious land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
Now that Israel
has decided to abandon territory unilaterally, a momentous step by any
reckoning, Palestinians should seize the moment to demonstrate their
political maturity by accepting this as a positive move. U.S. leadership
and the help of allies such as Egypt can shepherd the two sides into
negotiations. Ultimately, however, only Israelis and Palestinians can
find a resolution for their own conflict.