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The plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza has been adopted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has undertaken to put it on stable footing. According to the Egyptian framework, the Palestinian Authority must consolidate its security apparatus into three forces; Yasser Arafat must transfer broad powers to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), and appoint an acceptable interior minister; and the PA must reach an agreement with the Palestinian factions, particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for cooperation and perhaps even a united leadership. Adoption of the Egyptian framework by the PA and Palestinian factions would enable Egypt to send military advisers and trainers to Gaza, and in effect grant Egyptian patronage to the entire move.

Behind the Egyptian initiative is the recognition that Israeli disengagement from Gaza without an arrangement with the Palestinians could endanger Egypt, and not only Egypt.

Cairo does not want to face a situation in which its border with Gaza becomes a hot, direct front and it certainly does not want to be involved in a process in which it is perceived as responsible for security in Gaza.

On the other hand, on the understanding that the Israeli position - that it can't find a partner for negotiations on the Palestinian side - is not going to change in the near future, Egypt now wants to construct an acceptable framework: Israel won't negotiate directly with the Palestinians over the disengagement, but will do so through Cairo. Thus, Israel will be able to maintain the impression that the disengagement is unilateral, while being constrained by the conditions and agreements Egypt reaches with it and with the Palestinians.

If Israel were only to free itself of the concept that there is no Palestinian partner, or if it proposed the withdrawal from Gaza as a stage in an overall settlement or at least part of a negotiation, it is possible that there would be no need for such a complicated unstable framework as the one that is now being created, a framework that says Israel doesn't recognize a Palestinian partner but is ready to accept Egypt's approach, which is that there is a Palestinian partner, but at the current stage it is "only" Egypt's partner.

Political processes sometimes do need smoke screens and games with mirrors - on condition they lead to success. But it would be a bitter mistake to think that Egypt will be able and will want to go ahead with the process in Israel's stead. Egypt is demanding that the withdrawal from Gaza be overall and complete and be understood as part of the implementation of the road map, which Israel and the Palestinians have adopted and which refers specifically to a withdrawal from the West Bank, as well as Gaza.

Since Israel agreed that Egypt not only play a mediator's role between it and the Palestinians, but also be a participant responsible for preparing the conditions for the withdrawal, it must now give Egypt full political assistance.

The Egyptian initiative is now the only initiative in play. It includes important guarantees that disengagement will have an Arab safety net. It behooves the Israeli government, which approved the plan after much turmoil, not to allow the Egyptian initiative to fade.