Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts to ensure an orderly pullout from Gaza and the northern West Bank stands in stark contrast to the failure of leadership on the part of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, particularly when it comes to facing down the rejectionist groups like Hamas.
Despite angry protests from settlers, threats of violence and alienation from his longtime supporters on Israel’s nationalist right, Mr. Sharon remains committed to uprooting 25 Jewish settlements that he believes are no longer vital to his nation’s security. This is something that even dovish prime ministers like Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, for all the unreciprocated concessions they made to the Palestinians in the hope of attaining peace, were never able to do. A poll of 505 adult Israelis taken on July 13 found that by a 53 percent to 41 percent margin Israelis support Mr. Sharon’s disengagement plan, and oppose delaying it by a 52 percent to 36 percent margin.
Again, for Israel, the problem remains what it has been in one form or another since Mr. Rabin signed the Oslo I agreement in September 1993 — the absence of a functioning Palestinian leadership that is willing and able to take action against Palestinian terrorist organizations operating in territory it controls. Mr. Abbas’ supporters insist that they are receiving little credit for the fact that over the past five days, Palestinian security forces have finally begun to challenge Hamas’ efforts to fire rockets at Israeli civilians. While this campaign by Palestinian forces is a small step in the right direction, it is a far cry from the sustained campaign that will be necessary to destroy missile factories and training camps, and put terrorist financiers out of business in Palestinian-controlled areas of Gaza. Until Mr. Abbas’ security forces show they are prepared to carry out such a campaign, Israeli security forces will need to stay in parts of Gaza — even after the 9,000 civilians living in settlements leave.
The situation on the ground in Gaza today remains anarchic, as Hamas and Mr. Abbas’ Fatah fight for control. Just two hours after reaching a ceasefire with Fatah, Hamas gunmen opened fire on the homes of two senior Palestinian leaders, including Gaza’s police chief. Because of Mr. Abbas’ failure to exert control, Israeli troops are poised on Gaza’s border, ready to go in and deal with the terrorists themselves.