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August 08, 2005

Israeli Cabinet OK's First Stage of Pullout

For all the grief that Israel and especially Ariel Sharon gets, doesn't it seem like they'er doing a hell of a lot to defuse the conflict with the Palestinians, at no small risk to themselves?

I have to imagine Bush plays a part here, too.

Israeli security officials on Monday considered far-reaching new arrangements for Gaza's international border crossing, including the deployment of foreign inspectors, after Israel pulls out of the coastal strip in the coming weeks. An Israeli agreement to let foreigners replace Israeli inspectors at the Egypt-Gaza crossing at Rafah would be a major concession and give Gaza's Palestinians relatively unfettered access to the world for the first time in decades.

The deployment of foreign inspectors is supported by U.S. envoy James Wolfensohn, who has been trying to broker an agreement between the two sides on border crossings.

Wolfensohn has urged Israel to make a decision on border arrangements before the withdrawal starts next week. He also has said the withdrawal will only be a success if fenced-in Gazans can move freely β€” a prerequisite for reviving their battered economy.

The European Union, meanwhile, said it was willing to play a role in providing customs officers and training for the Palestinian Authority as part of bolstering security at the border.

The Security Cabinet, a group of top ministers, began meeting Monday afternoon, but it was not clear when a decision would be made. If the Rafah model is approved, it could be applied to the Palestinian airport and seaport.

Israel already has agreed to allow the Palestinians to rebuild their Gaza seaport, a project that could take years to complete. Gaza's international airport stopped operating after the outbreak of fighting in 2000, when Israel destroyed the runway.

Israel's main concern about the border crossings and ports is that militants could use them to smuggle weapons and infiltrate comrades into Gaza from Egypt after Israel leaves.

Under the current arrangement, Israeli troops patrol a narrow strip between Gaza and Egypt β€” the so-called Philadelphi road β€” and Israeli security and customs inspectors are posted at the Rafah crossing.

Europe will provide "customs officers" and "training" for the PA (as if the PA is keely interested in keeping out explosives and forbidden weapons). I don't see anything about actual troops for enforcement.

Benjamin Netanyahu resigned from the cabinet in protest. I can see his point about reducing security, and sure, I like him a lot, but it does strike me that he's playing politics, currying favor with the ultranationalist right.

I think the current formula is smart in its basics. Get the settlers out of undefensible areas, retreat back behind well-defended walls, let the Palestinians police themselves... if they can. If they can't, well, it's either time for those European countries so passionately in favor of the Palestinians to put their own troops on the line to calm things down.

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posted by Ace at 01:08 PM

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