If the disengagement plan is not backed up by progress toward a settlement in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip will "explode," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned Sunday during a meeting with Vice Premier Shimon Peres.
For his part, Peres agreed that "Gaza first" must not be allowed to become "Gaza last," stressing, however, that his position did not necessarily match that of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Peres will travel to Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday to discuss the Gaza disengagement with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The meeting is part of Egyptian efforts to demonstrate involvement in coordination between Israel and the Palestinians in an effort to insure the implementation of the pullout.
Meanwhile, addressing the cabinet after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sharon said that "the Americans are aware of our position that the transition from the disengagement to the road map is dependent on the dismantling of the terror groups, an end to the incitement, the rounding-up of arms and the implementation of reforms."
Sharon is expected to present a similar position in his meeting Tuesday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
In her meetings Sunday with Sharon and Peres, Rice spoke of the need to coordinate various aspects of the disengagement with the PA; most of the differences on the matter between Israel and the United States remain unresolved.
The talks also exposed the differences between Sharon and Peres, with the latter noting that it was "impossible to withdraw from Gaza and leave 1.3 million Palestinians closed off on all sides, without livelihoods and without the ability to sustain themselves."
Peres also noted that the laying of a rail line between Gaza and Tarqumiya in the West Bank would take some three years and cost around $170 million - a sum that Israel did not have available.
Sharon has yet to form a position with regard to a link between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the PA's demand to assume control of the border crossing in Rafah. Sharon is opposed to the reopening of the Gaza airport.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Rice of his concerns regarding Hamas's increasing strength and Abbas' weakness vis-a-vis dealing with the terror infrastructure. He also criticized the EU's willingness to maintain contacts with Hamas.
Rice said the United States stood by its position that rejects contacts with Hamas, and also promised that the Bush administration would work to undermine a Palestinian initiative to convene a special UN session against the separation fence.
Rice added that she would use her upcoming visit to Arab states to drum up support for the disengagement.
Rice: Israel, PA agree settler homes should be demolishedRice said Sunday that both the Israelis and Palestinians agree that the settlers' homes in the Gaza Strip settlements will need to be destroyed when Israel pulls out this summer, and they will need to work together to figure out how that will happen.
"The parties agree that they have to work this out in a cooperative way," she said. "The view is that there are better land use possibilities for the Palestinians that can better address their housing needs."
Israel to urge PA to put refugees in settlementsIsrael supports converting the land on which evacuated settlements stand into housing quarters for refugees, in order to bolster the standing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas vis-a-vis Hamas.
According to the plan both the Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed on, dubbed "evacuation-construction," Israel would pay the PA or an international body to demolish the houses and evacuate the debris. The donor states and the World Bank would allocate funding to entrepreneurs to turn the settlement areas into housing quarters for refugees.
This would enable the PA to provide thousands of workplaces and reduce unemployment in the Gaza Strip by some degree.
The plan was drafted by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and approved by Sharon.
PA officials made it clear to the Israelis that the settlers' villas are not suitable for their needs and expressed the fear that unless the structures are torn down, the settlements would turn into a battlefield among militias.
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