Why talk to the Israelis?
The government of Israel does indeed want to speak to PA representatives about the withdrawal arrangements, the fate of the homes and greenhouses, and that's just fine; but as far as the Palestinians are concerned, these are matters of procedure, not of essence.
Coordination between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority with regard to the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of the settlements doesn't really interest the Palestinians. The media has indeed carried reports about harsh differences of opinion between PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, on the issue of the need for such coordination, but Palestinian cabinet minister Ghassan al-Khatib says this is a marginal matter.
The government of Israel does indeed want to speak to PA representatives about the withdrawal arrangements, the fate of the homes and greenhouses, and that's just fine; but as far as the Palestinians are concerned, these are matters of procedure, not of essence. None among the Palestinian leadership is particularly excited by such coordination - not even cabinet member Mohammed Dahlan, who in his new post as minister in charge of contacts with Israel, is charged with handling the matter.
So what do the Palestinians want to talk about with regard to the withdrawal? About mapping out the exact borders of the Gaza Strip and the new locations of the crossings, for example.
The facilities at the Erez crossing are situated, for the most part, in the occupied area of Gaza. The withdrawal will require a decision on the new site of the crossing, and the Palestinians want to be party to this decision. No one is talking to the PA about the Philadelphi route either. The entire issue of the Strip's border with Egypt is being discussed by Israel and Egypt - without the Palestinians.
The disregard for the Palestinians with respect to the withdrawal from Gaza does not stem only from the fact that the disengagement is perceived as a unilateral plan, but also from the fact that in keeping with the official announcement about the pullout, Israel will continue to maintain the current arrangements with regard to the borders and crossings. This is what it says in the decisions of the government and the Knesset. This means that all the land, air and sea exit and entry points in Gaza remain under full Israeli control.
From the Palestinians' point of view (one that is shared by many in the international community), despite the IDF's withdrawal and the dismantling of the settlements, Israel, which will remain in control around the Strip, will continue to be responsible for the goings-on in Gaza, and its status as occupied territory won't change.
In other words, the disengagement, which is kicking up a storm among the Israeli public, has no significant effect on the fate of the conflict. As opposed to the sentiments in Israel (among supporters of the plan) that the withdrawal from Gaza is an important step toward the Palestinians and in the direction of resolving the conflict, many among the political leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip believe that the pullout only intensifies the conflict.
To blame are the numerous reports on the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While discussions go ahead on the dismantling of less than 2,000 Jewish homes in the Gaza settlements, reports in the West Bank speak of preparations for the construction of 6,400 new housing units. In other words, Israel is planning to build in the West Bank more than three times the amount of homes it will be dismantling in Gaza.
On Saturday, the Palestinian media busied themselves with reports on new appropriation orders for thousands of acres of land in Samua, Dahariyeh, Dura (the southern Hebron Hills), Dir Abaziyeh (Ramallah) and Beit Jala. The orders were issued by military government officials, with residents given a week to file appeals.
The land appropriation is for the purpose of constructing the separation fence, paving roads to the settlements and military needs. Violent clashes because of the fence continued this week in the villages of Dir Balut and Bal'in in Samaria.
The more it becomes evident to the Palestinians that the withdrawal from Gaza leaves the Strip under a siege of Israeli control and means a tightening of Israel's hold in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the less interest they have in coordination.
"Let the Israelis do whatever they want to do and that's it," said senior Palestinian sources in Ramallah on Saturday.
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