The unilateralism of the disengagement plan meant there was no need to take the Palestinians into account. They would not exist as far as the plan was concerned. As if Israel had occupied - and then withdrawn - from empty territory, where the only problem now is how to extricate several thousand Jews who arrived there by chance.
But all of a sudden it transpires that the Palestinians do have to be taken into account. Very much so. Not, Heaven forbid, in order to take responsibility for their fate but because, out of the blue, the disengagement has given birth to several serious problems of national importance - such as the fear of the car importers, who are worried about the import of cheap parts to Israel via Gaza; Solly Sakal, who is extremely worried about very competitive imports of electronic goods; the manufacturers of clothes and, in general, the Chambers of Commerce, which is fretting over losing its members' clients in the Gaza Strip.
After all is said and done, Israel currently exports about one quarter of its produce to the territories and about half of these exports, more than one billion shekels, reaches Gaza.
Israeli merchants and manufacturers, of course, do not want Chinese merchandise to get to Israel via Gaza at rock-bottom prices. The Israeli government is likewise concerned lest there be a loss of income as a result of disengagement, since for every product that today enters Gaza via Israeli ports, the Israeli government charges the Palestinian Authority value added tax and leaves 25 percent in its own coffers. What will happen when the merchandise of Gaza arrives via Egypt, or later, via the Gaza ports?
Such is the complex economic situation that the disengagement has created in ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
According to the 1994 Paris agreements, which form part of the Oslo accords, Israel and the territories are locked into a joint "customs envelope." This means that the rate of customs imposed on goods coming to the territories and to Israel is the same, whether they come from the Arab countries, Europe or the Far East. True, Israel "granted" certain concessions, such as an agreed-upon list of products the Palestinians can import from Jordan or Egypt with tax deductions, as well as value added tax that is 1 percent lower in the territories than that imposed in Israel.
However, everything else is one economy which does not make it possible for the Palestinians to establish independent economic arrangements with foreign countries and creates a total dependence, on their part, on Israel's economy. What is interesting is that in 1994, it was the Palestinians who refused to sign this agreement until the very last minute and now it is again they who are opposed to annulling it. This is because, in the same way as the security fence is seen in their eyes as marking the border, they believe that doing away with the joint customs envelope with Israel is designed to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, to create the "state of Gaza" and in this way to entirely free Israel not only of responsibility for the Strip but also from the continuation of the diplomatic process. In this sense, the dead Oslo accords have been resurrected to remind Israel, from inside the crystal ball, that there is still a long way to go before setting itself free from Gaza.
It is not merely the freedom that is far away; the "unilateralism" of the disengagement process has no substance without additional agreements with the PA, without ensuring a safe income for the residents of the Gaza Strip and without arrangements that both Israeli merchants and those in the territories will find satisfactory. These arrangements can no longer hide behind the term "coordination," which is today used to describe the security talks between the sides; they require the use of the rude word "negotiations" with the PA. And we are talking about diplomatic negotiations that will have to define whether the Paris agreements are still valid and, in short, whether the state of Palestine is being built "in installments" and what its economic, or rather, political borders are.
However, as usual, nothing has yet been decided, the discussions are being conducted in leisurely fashion, and in two weeks' time, someone will have to explain why the money in Gaza has dried up after the trucks from there can no longer enter the West Bank and Israel, since it has not been decided how the customs on them will be collected. No, nothing is urgent; we're only talking about Palestinians and there are still two weeks left.
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