Terrorist leader Dahlan " angry and astonished" that deportation plans not finalised - threatens US and Israel to bring in Hamas
Holland says it wants to purchase greenhouses from Jewish deportees and give them as presents to Arabs
JERUSALEM After her trip here last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced to much fanfare that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to demolish the 1,600 or so houses in Israel's Gaza settlements and the Palestinians were to be paid to clear away the rubble. But a senior Israeli official now says that there is no such agreement - that his government has yet to decide whether to demolish the houses, and that the Israelis and the Palestinians continue to disagree over what would happen to the rubble if they were demolished
. More likely, he said, given the political sensitivity of the issue, Israel will simply avoid a decision and leave the houses behind. Rice, he said, may have been misinformed by overeager officials, and no deal was ever finished. Sean McCormick, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday that there was a deal, although with issues still to be ironed out.
The confusion over the houses is a prime example of the crucial decisions left unmade only six weeks before Israel is scheduled to start pulling its nearly 9,000 settlers from Gaza and about 600 more from four small settlements in the northern West Bank. Muhammad Dahlan, the Palestinian minister in charge of coordinating the civilian side of the disengagement, says he is both angry and astonished. "With 45 days to go, we can't get an answer from the Israelis on any serious question," he said in an interview on Saturday in his Gaza City office. "They say they want to coordinate, but to every question we ask, we cannot get an answer." The Israeli official, when told about Dahlan's complaint, said simply: "He's right."
The Israeli military and civilian bureaucracy, trying to find a balance between security and openness, between leaving Gaza entirely and trying to maintain customs and security control over its boundaries, has been busily debating issues while the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon itself is split, the official said. "There is a real tension between our desire to control and our desire not to be responsible for Gaza," the official said. The official, who is involved in supervising all aspects of the Gaza withdrawal, agreed to speak freely only if his name were not used. He had a list of about 10 major undecided issues involving the Gaza withdrawal. Among those issues were Dahlan's urgent questions about how Palestinian workers and Palestinian products, both manufactured and agricultural, will be able to move in good time between Gaza and Egypt and Gaza and Israel - and thus to the West Bank and the rest of the world. Dahlan said: "If the United States and Israelis don't move more quickly, this will be a failed experiment in Gaza, and Hamas will pick up the pieces," invoking the radical Islamic group's combination of militancy and politics.
"Sharon seems to want chaos in Gaza," he said. "The Americans should be here in this time working to bring people together." That judgment is shared by two former American officials, Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, who remain involved in U.S.-Israeli relations. James Wolfensohn, former World Bank president, is working to coordinate the economic side, and General William Ward has been appointed by Washington to help the Palestinians reform their security services and coordinate security. There is a real risk that the chance for handing over Israeli greenhouses to the Palestinians as a working and viable agribusiness will be lost, Ross said, adding: "Those could provide 15,000 jobs for Palestinians." Some settlers, in the absence of any decisions, are dismantling their greenhouses. Israel denies Palestinian charges that some settlers are poisoning the land. In any event, it is not clear how perishable agricultural products from those greenhouses can move quickly from Gaza to markets the Israeli settlers have established in Europe.
How Israel can quickly inspect the goods for security, to ensure there are no explosive devices or ammunition being smuggled into Israel or the West Bank, has been a major stumbling block. There is no Israeli consensus on how to change the current system - every Palestinian truck unloaded by hand, and the inspected goods then loaded onto an Israeli truck - into one where containers travel unopened "door to door." That is one of the key issues embedded in the larger problem of the connection between Gaza and the West Bank for people and goods.
Dahlan wants a "safe passage," a strip of Israeli territory connecting the two. The Israelis are reluctant to grant territory now, without negotiation over territorial compensation, and are nervous about security. They have offered to build the Palestinians a railroad between northern Gaza and Hebron, but the Palestinians also want a roadway. Wolfensohn has proposed a cheaper "sunken road," a roofless tunnel at least 14 meters deep, or 45 feet, that could be walled to ensure that no Palestinians can leave the road in Israel. But there has been no Israeli decision about the road, which would take as much as three years to build. In the meantime, both sides are talking about Israeli-guarded convoys of Palestinian vehicles, equipped with tracking devices, that could travel on existing roads, mostly at night, and would represent a temporary solution.
Nor, say officials of both sides, is there yet agreement on how Israel will inspect goods entering Gaza from Egypt, to preserve the customs unity of Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. Who will be sovereign over Gaza after the Israeli military leaves and the occupation ends? Should civilian law apply? Should entry permits for Palestinian workers from Gaza be handed out by the Interior Ministry or still by the military? Should Israel allow Palestinians to immigrate to Gaza? In the northern West Bank, Israel still must decide how to treat the territory it is giving up, which is about the size of Gaza - will it be handed over to Palestinian security control, and if so, under what legal status?
Wednesday, June 15, 2005