- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Rival visions for the future are being offered ahead of January elections in the Gaza Strip, where many residents fear that with the pullout of Israeli settlers, their land will become an impoverished backwater isolated from the rest of the world.

One vision is offered by the militant group Hamas, which has distributed posters depicting a masked gunman crushing the roofs of Jewish settlements and trampling the Jewish Star of David. Another Hamas poster shows the Israeli parliament building in flames.

“We celebrate victory through our bombs,” reads one poster. “We give it as a present to our fighting nation. We will crush the opposition. Therefore, by the name of God, we swear we will continue.”

Billboards sponsored by the Palestinian Authority (PA), in contrast, offer up promises of a reconstruction effort alongside images of children at play next to a field of dandelions and a rainbow in the colors of a Palestinian flag.

Neither vision addresses the greatest fear of Gazans — that the Israeli disengagement will leave them physically and economically isolated in a region just double the size of the District of Columbia.

There are still no assurances that border crossings to Egypt and Israel will be opened, that settlement activity will stop in the West Bank or that sufficient financial assistance will arrive from abroad.

Palestinian legislator Kamel Sherafi said the PA will be hard-pressed to face down militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as long as there is no agreement with Israel on the future of the West Bank.

“What is happening in Gaza is insufficient for the Palestinians,” he said. “Resistance is a right as long as the occupation continues. I can’t instruct the people on how to fight the occupation.”

Mr. Sherafi has attended town meetings and seminars to ease fears among Gazans that the abandoned Jewish settlement will be looted and that private land vacated by the Israeli military will be misappropriated by the government.

The PA is preparing for a major celebration after Israel removes its last soldiers from Gaza later this month. National banners affixed to electricity poles line the main highways of the territory.

Salah Haider Shafi, a Gaza political analyst, said the elation that greeted the Israeli pullback won’t last for long and that both Palestinians and Israelis must accelerate efforts to restart peace talks.

If the Israeli government expands settlement activity and continues construction of a West Bank security barrier, “the whole process might collapse,” he said. “I think Hamas and Islamic Jihad won’t be silent.”

Mr. Haider Shafi said he is worried that the PA has promised an unrealistic future of economic prosperity, a strategy that could backfire if the promise is not kept.

“You should avoid raising the expectations of the people,” he said. “Disengagement by itself doesn’t mean prosperity.”

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