Fatah officials told Aljazeera.net neither the Palestinian Authority nor resistance factions could guarantee that security and stability would prevail in the Gaza Strip if the prospective Israeli pullout turned out to be “tactical and incomplete”.
The warning came as Egypt suspended an inter-factional Palestinian conference in Cairo which was planned to take place on 18 September, ostensibly awaiting Israeli “assurances and guarantees” pertaining to the nature of the long-awaited withdrawal.
According to Palestinian sources, Egypt proposed a one-year ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that would go into effect as soon as Israeli occupation forces and Jewish settlers had departed Gaza.
Virtually all Palestinian factions – including Hamas, whose politburo chief Khalid Mishaaal has been holding talks with Egyptian officials – are willing to agree to a ceasefire, but insist on reciprocity from Israel and demand that the withdrawal should be final and complete.
No sham withdrawal
Samir Masharawi, one of Gaza’s prominent Fatah leaders, told Aljazeera.net that “a sham Israeli withdrawal” would be unacceptable to the Palestinians and “a prescription for continued violence and bloodshed”.
Palestinians are wary of Israelis
“If the withdrawal brings freedom to our people, then everything will be fine and Palestinians will uphold their commitments. But if Israel decides to turn Gaza into a big jail, the resistance will then continue and Israel will be responsible,” he said.
He presented several “fundamental demands” which he said had to be be met by Israel so that “all sides” would be able to carry out their respective commitments:
It seems unlikely, however, that Ariel Sharon’s government will meet these demands which Egypt considers “axiomatic and just”.
Israeli sources told Aljazeera.net Prime Minister Sharon would “retain tight control of Gaza borders, especially the “Philadelphi route” south of Rafah, which lies along the borders between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.
This, says Palestinian officials, will render the entire withdrawal scheme disingenuous and void of substance.
“We will not accept a situation where the Israeli occupation army turns Gaza into a huge concentration camp. If Israel is interested in a stable and peaceable Gaza, it must leave the Palestinians alone and allow our people to live freely and travel freely and work freely,” said Abd Allah Abd Allah, deputy Palestinian Foreign Minister.
“We insist that our people earn their freedom fully and completely.”
According to a source within the Palestinian Authority, Egypt will seek to assure Israel that the “borders with Gaza” will not be misused.
“If the withdrawal brings freedom to our people, then everything will be fine and Palestinians will uphold their commitments. But if Israel decides to turn Gaza into a big jail, the resistance will then continue”
This is apparently the message Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait and Intelligence Chief Umar Sulayman will convey to Sharon when they visit Tel Aviv in two weeks.
However, it is far from certain that Israel will go along with any assurances or guarantees.
The Sharon government will be wary about scenes of joyous Palestinians dancing in the streets, angering Israeli settlers and their right-wing allies.
And Tel Aviv’s apparent refusal to make the withdrawal irreversible and final – for example, like Indonesia’s withdrawal from East Timor – may ultimately kill off Egypt’s role in Gaza.
It is not clear why Israel wants to retain effective control in Gaza.
Publicly, Israeli officials argue that Tel Aviv needs to retain control over the Gaza Strip to make sure that Palestinians do not bring in heavy and sophisticated weapons from Egypt.
But some Israeli military commanders think the government is worried that unfettered access to Gaza would expose the extent of Israeli crimes in the thoroughly bombed-out territory, and may lead to Palestinians calling on the International Court of Justice to declare Israeli political and military leaders war criminals.