This is all the prime minister needs - for the right wing to air out those dusty "don't give them guns" slogans, which he helped to draft, from the attic and to post them with billboards proclaiming "Sharon is expelling [people] under fire."
Ariel Sharon knows better than anyone else that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli terror victims since the Oslo agreement were not killed by bullets fired by Palestinian policemen. Moreover, from the first days after his stroll around the Temple Mount in September 2000, until then chief of staff Shaul Mofaz ordered the attack on Jibril Rajoub's headquarters, the Palestinian "national defense" forces served as a buffer between the crowd and Israel Defense Forces.
Still, when Qassam rockets are landing on Sderot one can understand a politician's reluctance to let truckloads of munitions into Gaza. How will he explain to the mourning families afterward that their loved ones were hit by shells of the bad Arabs, who evaded the bullets of the good Arabs?
But the struggle between the good guys and bad guys in the Gaza Strip on the day after the pullout will not be determined only - or even mainly - by force. Ammunition is no substitute for motivation. If the Palestinian policemen's assignment begins and ends with arresting gunmen for the sake of Israel's security, they will refuse to do it. Arabs do not arrest Arabs for Jews. There is a chance they would do so for Arabs.
The Israelis are so preoccupied with their own "trauma," that they fail to notice that in a few weeks the lives of 1.3 million Palestinians will change completely. For 38 years they have been subjected to colonial rule, which exploited their land and cheap labor. You could say it provided them with a livelihood. It's all in the eye of the beholder. One way or another, the fate of tens of thousands of families who made a living in the settlers' greenhouses and at Israel's construction sites is now in jeopardy. Those first days in October will seal the fate of the disengagement plan.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres has repeatedly warned Sharon and his ministers that a humanitarian-economic disaster will lead to a third intifada. As the Oslo architect, he knows there is no greater enemy to peace than the loss of hope of the Palestinian on the street, whose personal circumstances will be altered by political developments. Once they called these the "fruits of peace."
There is a chance that Israel's withdrawal from the Strip will sever Gaza's residents from the few "fruits" of occupation: their sources of livelihood as well as their relatives in Hebron and Europe's export markets. Should this be the case, then policemen armed to the hilt would not stop them on their way to the Hamas' recruitment center.
If the liberated Strip is to develop alternative production means and new work places, it must attract foreign investors. They will funnel funds there only if Israel guarantees that their vegetables are not doomed to rot in the Karni or Erez crossings. A tomato that undergoes seven examinations on the way to the consumer's table cannot compete with a fresh tomato. A Palestinian worker who is detained three hours at the barricade cannot compete with a Thai worker who lives in his boss' storage room.
This is the junction where, as always, welfare clashes with security. The same Shin Bet security forces head who, according to yesterday's reports, does not object to supplying the Palestinian police with ammunition, refuses to facilitate the passage of humans and merchandise between Gaza and Israel on the morning after the disengagement.
The "day after" may be a cliche, but it will aptly fit the mood of Gaza's residents in the first critical hours after Israel's withdrawal. They have already learned the lesson that you can't buy bread or pay the rent with "Area A" status: Too many of the people from those areas, which are under total Palestinian control, have ended up in Hamas soup kitchens.
It follows that the really important question is not whether we should allow the Palestinians weapons to use to kill themselves for us, but whether we should enable them to live - and to allow ourselves to live.
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