The withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip has been completed with far less turmoil than anticipated. Completion of the move shifts the spotlight onto the Palestinian Authority, which must now show that it can govern Gaza. That means providing both jobs and security to Palestinian residents and ensuring that the newly regained territory is not used as a staging ground for attacks on Israel. The government’s failure to prevent terrorists from using Gaza as a haven will undermine any hopes for progress toward peace.
There were fears that the Israeli withdrawal from 21 settlements in Gaza and from four of 120 in the West Bank would set off a civil war in Israel between settlers and the Israeli government. There were charges of betrayal from the settlers and their supporters, but the evacuation went off on schedule with only minor disruptions. The completion of the plan is a victory for the rule of law in Israel and a vital step forward in the fragile peace process.
The withdrawal leaves Gaza in the control of the Palestinian Authority. There is much to be done. That government must clean up the rubble left by the Israeli settlers and put the land to good use. According to the United Nations, most residents of Gaza live on less than $2 a day. The United States has pledged $50 million in aid for Gaza, but release of the funds is contingent on administrative reform to ensure that the money is spent as intended; other donors should be equally cautious about how their aid is used.
Japan has provided some $767 million in aid to the Palestinians since 1993, making Japan the third-largest donor after the U.S. and European Union. During a May visit to Tokyo by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Japan pledged an additional $100 million. Tokyo should also ensure that its money is well spent.
The most important factor in Gaza’s future is the security situation. There will be no hope for Gazans if their government cannot impose law and order on the territory. Absent peace, no one will risk investing in Gaza; without investment there will be no economy.
The Palestinian Authority has two challenges. Providing rudimentary law and order — which will be anything but easy given Gaza’s history and the armed militias that operate with impunity throughout the territory — is only the first. Even more important is reining in the militants who want to use Gaza as a launching pad for attacks against Israel. This group has been emboldened by the Israeli withdrawal, seeing the move as vindication of its strategy of armed resistance.
The first challenge was served up last weekend by Mr. Muhammad Deif, the military leader of Hamas who tops the list of Israel’s most wanted men. Mr. Deif emerged from hiding to issue a videotape calling the withdrawal a “humiliation” to Israel, warning the Palestinian Authority to not attempt the confiscation of Hamas’ weapons, and promising that “all of Palestine will become a hell” for Israelis. Those threats should not be taken lightly.
Mr. Deif is accused of masterminding a series of suicide bombings and other attacks against Israel since 1996, which have claimed hundreds of lives. He escaped assassination in an Israeli rocket attack against his car three years ago. He is believed to head a group of 5,000 militants. In his video, he claimed that it was the armed resistance that forced the Israeli withdrawal and called on Palestinians to rally behind Hamas.
Mr. Deif’s call to defy the Palestinian Authority’s attempts to disarm the militias poses a direct challenge to Mr. Abbas. Hamas is popular: At a rally last weekend, more than 5,000 Palestinians marched to celebrate the Hamas “victory,” vowing to continue the fight. Mr. Abbas has argued instead that negotiation and an end to the armed struggle is the surest way to achieve the long-sought dream of a Palestinian state. He has been unwilling to use force to disarm the militants, however, acknowledging that it could spark a civil war among Palestinians. He has won a ceasefire, but it is fragile: Periodic killings on either side trigger reprisals. The commitment to peace is little more than rhetoric: Trust is nonexistent.
The Israeli government has warned Mr. Abbas that it will not restart peace talks or discuss more withdrawals from settlements until he disarms the militants. The scrutiny is already intense, but a leadership challenge to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by rival Benjamin Netanyahu — who charges that Mr. Sharon’s decision to withdraw only encourages terrorism — will force the Israelis to take an even harder line.
Other governments must back the demand that negotiations prevail over terrorism, but they must also be ready to support Mr. Abbas as he tries to enforce that policy. The Palestinian leader is embattled on all sides; he needs all the help he can get.
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