- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2005

With just 37 days left until Israel begins the painful process of uprooting more than 9,000 of its citizens from Gaza and the northern West Bank, the contrast between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s approach and that of the Palestinian Authority is jarring: While PA President Mahmoud Abbas continues, without any apparent results, to try to persuade Hamas and state supporters of terrorism like Syrian President Bashar Assad to behave themselves, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza grows ever more chaotic, as rejectionists openly challenge his authority, members of his own Fatah organization settle their squabbles over money and power by fighting gun battles in the streets and Palestinians are repressed by Fatah and Hamas alike.

On the Israeli side, by contrast, a comprehensive strategy has been put together in order to ensure the disengagement is completed as smoothly as possible. Nearly 15,000 police officers so far have received specialized training for their roles in disengagement, and detailed plans are being put together to ensure that the evacuation, which Israeli officials expect will last no longer than two weeks, goes forward as smoothly as possible. Forty-one thousand Israeli soldiers will participate in removing the settlers. Seventeen Israeli soldiers and policemen will be employed to evacuate each of the more than 1,700 settler families being removed from Gaza and the West Bank.

Specialized plans are being put in place to deal with compensation requests from settler families; to provide temporary housing while families search for homes inside Israel; to provide employment opportunities for people who lose their jobs; and even to disinter more than 100 Israelis buried in Gaza (many of them victims of terrorist attacks) for reburial in Israel. For some of the Israeli families who will lose their homes in Gaza, it will be their second such traumatic sacrifice in the hope of attaining peace. In 1982, these people lost their homes when Israel turned over the Sinai town of Yamit to Egypt.

In carrying out disengagement, Mr. Sharon’s goals are very clear — he wants to withdraw Israeli civilians (and in the coming year, Israeli troops as well) from Gaza and the northern West Bank with minimal loss of life. And he wants to ensure that there is no repeat of the debacle that took place when Prime Minister Ehud Barak in May 2000 decided to unilaterally withdraw from southern Lebanon. The Lebanon pullout ended in a rout when Hezbollah overran positions abandoned by the Israel Defense Forces and their Lebanese allies. Mr. Sharon understands that Israel paid a huge price for such a conspicuous display of weakness: Just four months later, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat decided to go to war with Israel. And approximately four months after that, the Israeli people threw Mr. Barak out of office in a landslide, electing Mr. Sharon with 62 percent of the vote.

Unfortunately, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza appears very likely to occur under fire. Mr. Abbas has thus far given no indication that he is prepared to do much of anything to rein in Hamas and the other rejectionist groups who operate in PA-controlled territory. And his passivity breeds contempt. On Wednesday, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas operative in Gaza, declared that the group had “lost faith” in Mr. Abbas and the PA and warned that it would continue to attack Israel from Gaza following disengagement. Mr. al-Zahar declared that Hamas would not “serve as a fig leaf” for PA control of Gaza after Israeli settlements are gone, and said that it would not give up its weapons because they are needed “to defend every centimeter of the homeland against Zionist aggression.” He added that Hamas would likely continue to attack Israel after it leaves Gaza “in order to liberate the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

Other Hamas representatives, operating in damage-control mode, claimed that al-Zahar was exaggerating Hamas’ differences with PA. But there is no question that Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction. It continues to fire rockets at Israel, and it has been using the “ceasefire” in place since February to rebuild a terror network that had been decimated by Israel’s security services in recent years.

Indeed Hamas makes no secret of its efforts to expand its ability to produce Qassam rockets beyond Gaza and into the West Bank. An article published June 28 on the Web site of Hamas’ military wing discusses the advantages of targetting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with Qassams and predicts that the rocket “will serve as the key weapon of deterrence in the next phase of the confrontation as the acts of suicide martyrdom served as the weapon of choice” in the past.

And Hamas terrorist capabilities are just one of the many problems facing Mr. Abbas. Last week Hezbollah, which stepped up its support for Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza following Israel’s pullout from Lebanon, attempted to infiltrate northern Israel in a bid to kidnap IDF soldiers. In the increasingly lawless West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian gangs and militias, affiliated with Fatah, openly settle personal disputes with guns. A Palestinian human-rights monitoring organization on Thursday issued a report criticizing the role that Fatah and the religious extremism of Hamas have played in preventing the growth of a genuinely pluralist political structure for Palestinians.

If Mr. Abbas fails to exert some leadership, he will bring catastrophe and ruin to his people.

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