Due to the unilateral nature of the Israeli evacuation from the Gaza Strip, no one is working too hard to ask the Palestinians what they think about the idea. Israel wants to coordinate the pullout with the Palestinian Authority, but not to reach an agreement with it. From the perspective of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other authority officials, this has a certain advantage. For instance, PA Minister Mohammed Dahlan said last week, "We should celebrate our big victory, which was achieved without our having to give anything up and without any obligation on our side."
Nonetheless, Palestinian spokespeople such as Jibril Rajoub, who discussed the issue with journalists in Jerusalem, say the Israeli withdrawal will be judged by the extent to which Israel meets three conditions. The first concerns whether Palestinians will have total control over access to Gaza by land, sea and air. If Israel continues to control access to the Strip, the Palestinians will view the pullout as being nothing more than "one big show for the international community and a continuation of Israeli control of Gaza under the guise of evacuation."
The access issue relates primarily to the Gaza-Egypt border (the Philadelphi route). Last week Fatah chairman Farouk Kaddoumi told his movement's central committee in Amman that he would move to Gaza only if it were totally cleansed of Israeli security forces and settlers. Kaddoumi, who seriously opposed the peace process and the Oslo Accords, always used to say he would never agree to enter his homeland if doing so would require Israeli approval. Now he is saying, in reference to crossing the Gaza-Egypt border, "I will be prepared to go to Gaza even if it requires the approval of the Egyptian security establishment."
Control over access to Gaza is discussed primarily in talks between Israeli and Egyptian officials - such as Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman - and Palestinian sources are complaining that they have not managed to discuss the subject with Israel.
The second Palestinian condition is that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and part of the northern West Bank will be part of the American "road map" plan. This seems to be a relatively easy condition to fulfill, as Israel has accepted the road map in principle and honoring it will primarily require making declarations.
The third, and perhaps most complicated, condition is the demand that the withdrawal include an agreement regarding free and secure transit between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Senior PA officials say they need this in part because a link between the West Bank and Gaza will help them counter Hamas efforts to control the Strip.
Several Palestinian commentators say it is already difficult to travel between the three blocs, or cantons, that comprise the West Bank: the Nablus bloc, which is ruled by rival militias and gangs; the Ramallah bloc, the PA's administrative headquarters and the academic and cultural center; and the Hebron bloc, which is controlled by large clans of merchants.
Hamas' control of all three West Bank blocs is weak, compared to its control in Gaza. Many Palestinians in the territories have no doubt that if the Strip is completely isolated from the West Bank, it will rapidly become a Hamas state. Hamas was founded in Gaza; most of its leaders come from there and have been inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt. Hamas' power in Gaza was reflected a few weeks ago in its impressive success in the municipal council elections.
These three conditions set by the Palestinians are not up for negotiation with Israel because the disengagement plan is of a unilateral nature, which requires Israel to do what is comfortable and good for it - not what's good for the Palestinians. At the same time, it's worthwhile to know that unless these conditions are met, there is no chance that the Palestinians and others will see the pullout as a step toward a peace agreement.
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