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July 23, 2005

What Now? 

By: Gershon Baskin*

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is almost a done deal. The process can still be derailed, but right now it looks pretty positive. This is a victory for the struggle for peace, although the extremists in Palestine will claim victory for themselves. The struggle is far from over, but this is a real new beginning. Perhaps for the first time, a large part of the continuation of the struggle for peace will be a lot more dependent on what the Palestinians do than on only what Israel does.

We can assume that Israel will do very little following the disengagement to advance peace.  It does not see that Sharon has any intention of returning to the negotiating table in the near future. Sharon is demonstrating the same unwillingness to recognize Abu Mazen as a partner as before he was democratically elected. Sharon is not really interested in coordinating the disengagement and one can expect that Israel will continue to drag its feet with regards to decision making on key issues such as the Gaza airport, the seaport and other key issues regarding free movement of Palestinian people and Palestinian goods. One should not expect that the current status quo regarding movement will suddenly improve after disengagement.  Secretary Rice is here in the region to try to move the process of dealing with the details of disengagement forward.  Her visit will help, but there will still remain some important issues undecided. The situation is far from ideal, but with Israel really leaving Gaza, Palestinians must recognize the opportunity for a better deal and a chance for positive change.

What is different and what can be different is that the Palestinian will be free of Israeli occupation, at least within Gaza.  It is also very likely that there will be free access and movement through the Gaza-Egypt border. Maybe there will be some kind of arrangement for movement of goods between the West Bank and Gaza – perhaps going back first to the convoy system and then later to a rail system of some other passage. 

The international community has made a new commitment to assist the Palestinians in state building. Some of the Palestinian Ministers and officials have made real progress in designing plans for developing and building Gaza. There is no doubt that the economics of life in Gaza have to change and now there is real international willingness to assist. The international community, however, will do nothing if the Palestinians don’t first help themselves.

If Palestinians want Palestine to be a State it has to look like a State and it has to behave like a State. Those who were elected to serve the State and its people have to rise to the calling. Yes, it is true that Gaza is only one part of the State and there is a fear that Sharon’s real intention is to “trade off” Gaza for the West Bank. Sharon will face his own problems inside of Israel after the disengagement and even if Sharon wins the next elections in Israel, the struggle for peace and for Palestinian Statehood will go on. Sharon intentions do not need to dictate what the Palestinian should do for Palestine. Palestinians can impact on the results of the process by what they do. They now have a chance to make order in Gaza.  They have a chance to demonstrate to the world (and to themselves) that they are no less worthy of a State than any other people in this region.  

Palestinian entrepreneurs have survived under situations and conditions that would have brought down the best and the brightest.  Now it is their chance to excel.  Now is the chance for the Palestinians to demonstrate that the people of Palestine want peace, they want democracy and they want freedom. The people of Palestine want dignity and respect and they have a chance to prove that they are worthy of that and more.

We who support this vision have an obligation to join the cause and to support it. This is a partnership of those who share this vision. The stakes are very high and the importance of success is crucial. The future of the West Bank rests with the success of Palestinian state building in Gaza. This must be recognized by Palestinians who resist seeing this reality, they must have another look. Palestinian infighting is destructive to success. Gaza must become the focus for now. The Authority must rule Gaza from Gaza. The centrality of Ramallah and even more so of Jerusalem, in the future, to the Palestinian cause will return to center stage much faster if state building in Gaza is successful. Today Palestinian leaders visit Gaza. This must change and Abu Mazen must lead by deciding that the seat of Government is temporarily moving to Gaza.

Abu Mazen, the Palestinian people and the act of state building can be strengthened by the convening of a meeting of international leaders coming to Gaza to celebrate Palestinian freedom and the end of the Israeli occupation there. Imagine ten or more of the world’s most important leaders landing in the Gaza airport to be received by Abu Mazen and his government. The Palestinian cause and the occupation of the West Bank and of East Jerusalem will not be forgotten by making Gaza successful. The opposite is the case. Palestinian success in Gaza will strengthen the belief in Israel and across the globe that the Palestinians are a real partner for peace. The eventual Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank will be speeded up by Palestinian success in Gaza.

Palestinians can do it. Gaza can be a success. The problems are not insurmountable. Gaza is the size of an average city in Europe. The amount of international assistance and good will available can make a real impact. We in the peace camp in Israel will be strengthened and empowered by Palestinian success in Gaza. We all have work to do in this struggle. We in Israel will have to face another round of elections sooner rather than later.  Palestinians too will have elections to face.  The success of the moderates and the peace makers within the Palestinian politic will be based on the success of the state builders now. What is done by Palestinian leaders tomorrow morning will shape our common future.  It is time for Palestinians to grasp this opportunity and to change the course of the future for all Palestinians and for the rest of the people in this region as well.

* Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. He can be reached at: