An opening in Gaza

THERE ARE many reasons to cheer yesterday's comprehensive agreement on the transport of people and goods in and out of Gaza that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice worked out with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in an all-night session.

The agreement creates the possibility of a desperately needed economic recovery for Palestinians in Gaza. The terms of the accord, which Rice kept revising on a laptop computer from Monday night to Tuesday morning, are meant to strike what she called ''an important balance between security on the one hand and, on the other hand, allowing the Palestinian people freedom of movement."

It took a set of compromises to balance Israel's concern for security and the Palestinians' need to move freely and have goods pass easily across their borders with both Egypt and Israel. The security arrangement for the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border gives Palestinians control of an international border for the first time. To meet Israel's security needs, Israeli officials will be able to monitor TV cameras at the Rafah crossing, looking for terrorists, weapons, and deliveries of cash that might pay for terrorist operations. In case of a dispute between Israelis and Palestinians about particular persons attempting to enter Gaza, European Union officials will be empowered to decide for or against entry.

Two other elements of the agreement promise economic benefits for the Palestinians and potential political gains for both sides. At the Karni crossing from Gaza into Israel, there is to be a rapid increase in the number of trucks carrying farm produce from Gaza to crucial markets in Israel and Europe. This breakthrough is crucial to hopes for an immediate revival of economic activity in Gaza. For a least a year, perishable fruits and vegetables will still have to be unloaded from one set of trucks and reloaded onto others at the Karni crossing, to guard against the transport of explosives and weapons. Wisely, however, the Bush administration has pledged $100 million to pay for scanners that will eventually permit agricultural exports to cross into Israel without the delay of having to be unloaded from their original trucks.

No less of a breakthrough is the go-ahead for construction of a seaport in Gaza, which will not be ready for at least three years. No agreement was reached on the rebuilding of the Gaza airport that the Israeli military has left inoperable. But if Gaza is to avoid becoming a sequestered, impoverished spawning ground for despair and terrorism, it will have to have an airport as well as a seaport and borders open to the outside world.

The Gaza accord forged by Rice teaches a lesson that should never have been forgotten: the need for US leaders at the highest level to engage directly in Mideast peacemaking. 

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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