Calm before the storm

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The moment has finally arrived. It has taken 38 years but Israeli troops are finally pulling out of Gaza. Blame it to the much needed ‘political courage’ shown by the by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which is sadly missing among the politician around the world. It is worth mentioning in this regard that it was Sharon who gave a go ahead to the ‘disengagement plan’ despite domestic opposition.

As a result of this plan, at least 20 per cent of the area of the Gaza Strip, which was seized by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, famously known as the Six-Day War will now be free. The recent event has created new dawn of hope.

“The new initiative will improve Palestinian attitudes toward Israel. It might lead to a sharp decrease in the cycle of violence, followed by a renewal of negotiations and someday a complete settlement,” said an Israeli official.

Above mentioned quote sound a bit over enthusiastic because the fact remains that that Israel still controls the borders, airspace and coastline of Gaza and thus in a sense, the area still remains ‘occupied’. But on the brighter note the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) will at least have the rights to administer Gaza, though the million- dollar question that remains to be seen is the extent of economic freedom they can exert.

But if we take into perspective the plight of Palestinian refugees that has suffered the most during all these years, it’s a time for celebration. These people have lived in crowded camps for decades. They can now hope to live without the looming fear of sudden Israeli raids. With an easing of the travel restrictions, life for these Palestinians will now hopefully become less of a struggle.

But one thing for sure, it will once again lead to a battle of power politics as the withdrawal has set the stage for an intensified power struggle between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and militants of the Islamic group, Hamas.

While putting the disengagement plan, Sharon was of the view that the move would increase the security of Israelis, ease pressure on Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and reduce tensions between the two sides.

Hamas, on the other hand, has taken credit for the pullback, claiming that the move is the result of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. Infact, many Palestinians credit Hamas for forcing Israel out. Israel has put the onus on the Palestinian Authority to crackdown on terrorism. It is now up to Abbas to dismantle Hamas and prove that he is sincere about the ‘road map to peace’.

Here in lies the problem for Abbas. Fact that Hamas enjoys popular support and any move by the leader to reign in militants could trigger a widespread civil strife in this violence-hit zone.

The question that tops the mind of most Palestinians is simple – Is the Gaza evacuation the first step towards establishing a viable Palestinian state? Or will it just be a one off move with Israel still holding on to strategic areas in the West Bank?

Only two people can answer these questions: One is Abbas and other one is Sharon. It is the responsibility of the Israeli leaders to convince the world that the withdrawal is the beginning of a sustained strategy for peace and not some act by which Israel would further cement its grip on parts of the occupied territories.

The world is watching development in Gaza with keen eye. As the Palestinians enjoy their moment of freedom, the real debate lies over what will be the future of Gaza after the Israeli tanks leave.