The barrel of explosives that Israel sought to neutralize by implementing the disengagement plan is still a genuine threat. True, Israel Defense Forces soldiers no longer patrol the alleys of the Gaza Strip and settlers are no longer drawing more and more defensive forces there, but the 1.5 million or so residents in Gaza continue to constitute a potential danger. For when such a large population lives in proximity to the most crowded place on earth, with an unemployment rate of some 70 percent and the movement of people and goods impeded by the will of the Israeli government, and with the chances of economic rehabilitation, and therefore social and political change being far from realization - one can easily predict the path of the next violent outbreak.
The government seeks to enjoy the best of all possible worlds: to disengage from Gaza and make the Palestinian Authority responsible for its economic future, while imposing an absolute freeze on any diplomatic negotiations over the region's future. This ambition could be realized, at least partially, under one condition: if the government were to remove, in a responsible fashion, all the restrictions it has imposed on the Strip. It must enable businessmen, manufacturers, marketers, students, relatives and workers who want to travel back and forth between Egypt and Gaza to do so, even if Israel lacks immediate and exact information about the identity of those entering and exiting.
The current dispute between the PA and Israel over the question of the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is liable to create the impression that we are talking about some inviolable security necessity, under which Israel wants to receive, without delay, video pictures of those entering from Egypt, whereas the PA views this as a continuation of its security subordination to Israel and therefore insists on delaying the transfer of information by one day. Thus Gaza's citizens have been trapped in a battle over prestige, for which it is too easy to blame the PA.
It would not be superfluous to examine whether Israel could not concede on this issue, whose security importance is far outweighed by the benefits of resolving the dispute. This pedantry on the part of Israel, all of whose moves undoubtedly stem from some sort of security need, has already provoked the Quartet's representative, James Wolfensohn, to issue warnings and even to state that nothing has changed in the Strip since the IDF's departure. That is a severe statement, which is aimed primarily at Israel and can be heard clearly in Washington. Israel, the PA and members of the Quartet all have a clear interest in Wolfensohn persisting in his efforts rather than throwing up his hands in despair.
Israel's withdrawal from Gaza cannot remain an isolated move, disconnected from its economic, social and security context. Even if, due to political developments in Israel, this withdrawal does not generate the desired continuation - a withdrawal from additional parts of the West Bank - in the near future, Israel must ensure that it does not turn into a new security threat. For this purpose, the wisdom and immediate action of strategists are needed - not those of politicians, who make petty calculations of losing or winning the next elections. Because a delay in Gaza's rehabilitation constitutes the next strategic threat.