What happens in the withdrawal will be pivotal
Friday, August 12,
The next few weeks,
when the Israelis attempt to carry out the withdrawal of their forces
and settlers from Gaza, need to be a period when moderation and calm prevail.
Those two words --
moderation, calm -- don't normally characterize, of course, relations
between the Israelis and Palestinians, nor developments in the Middle
East in general.
The process that has
already begun is based on a decision made by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon and ratified by his Likud-dominated government. Extraneous bits
of foam, the political equivalent of what the space shuttles sometimes
shed, have peeled off the Israeli government as the withdrawal has moved
forward. Defections have included, notably, ex-Minister of Finance and
political ambulance chaser Benjamin Netanyahu, who hopes that the process
will go badly and that he will then be able to profit from the internal
chaos that might ensue if Mr. Sharon's Gaza project fails.
What is occurring
is the withdrawal of some 8,500 Israeli settlers from 21 communities in
the 25-by-6-mile Gaza Strip. It is home to 1.3 million Palestinians; borders
on Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea and has been illegally occupied
by the Israelis for nearly four decades, since the 1967 war.
The Gaza withdrawal
is not unprecedented in Israeli history. The Sinai peninsula, home to
some 5,000 Israeli settlers, was handed back to Egypt as part of the Israeli-Egyptian
peace accord in 1982. But a lot has changed since then.
The evolution of the
Palestinian Authority toward becoming a government has proceeded. Palestine
Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat has died, to be succeeded
by the more confidence-inspiring Mahmoud Abbas.
The idea is that the
Israeli withdrawal will give the Palestinians greater autonomy in Gaza
than they have hitherto enjoyed anywhere else. If Palestinian government
goes well there, the result can be considered a step forward on the so-called
road map to resolution of the Middle East conflict. The plan envisages
the putting in place of two states, Israel and Palestine, which would
live side by side in peace and security. The road map was devised by the
United States under President Bush's leadership, the United Nations, the
European Union and Russia.
Dancing around the
potential tinderbox that Gaza constitutes at the moment, pocket lighters
in hand, is a nasty mix of Israeli and Palestinian extremists, who somehow
see the failure of Prime Minister Sharon's withdrawal plan to their advantage.
On the Palestinian side are some of the usual suspects: Hamas, Islamic
Jihad, other nihilist car-bombers and the like. On the Israeli side, it
is bitter-end settlers, demonstrators from Brooklyn and elsewhere and
some Israelis who think that whatever the country has been able to occupy
it should keep.
Standing in opposition
to these elements, attempting to implement the decision of the government
of Israel, are the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli citizens who see
Prime Minister Sharon's decision to withdraw the settlers and forces from
Gaza as a reasonable step toward achieving long-term peace and security
Moderation and calm
must be the watchwords of the day. The Israeli Defense Forces and the
security forces of the Palestinian Authority are there to see that the
extremists do not succeed in blowing up the process at this key juncture.
Hold your breath and cross your fingers.
PG Publishing Co., Inc.