August 20, 2005

Gaza Withdrawal: Mahmud 'Abbas Comments

Mahmud 'Abbas

Over the last few days, the media has covered Israel's unilateral withdrawal from its settlements in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon ordered the controversial withdrawal as part of the Middle East peace process, although some skeptics believe he is doing it more to make peace with the United States rather than the Palestinians. The American administration has put pressure on the Israelis to withdraw what many believe are illegal settlements in Palestinian territory.

Most Middle East specialists are aware that the Gaza Strip was never intended to be part of Israel. It was part of the League of Nations established Palestinian Mandate established after the end of World War I in which the Ottoman Empire was defeated and dismembered. Palestine was administered by the British until the United Nations partition plan of 1947. According to the plan, two states - one Jewish and one Arab/Palestinian - were to be created in the area of the mandate. Gaza was always envisioned as part of the Arab state. After the fighting (or as the Israelis say, the "War of Independence") in 1948, it came under Egyptian governance. It has been in Israeli hands since they captured it (and the entire Sinai peninsula) in the 1967 Six Day War.

As the final stages of the withdrawal are in progress. Palestinian National Authority President Mahmud 'Abbas made some remarks at the reopening of the Gaza International Airport.

His comments, made in Arabic and obviously for local consumption, are not helpful.

Translated and excerpted:

"Today we come to visit our former president Yasser Arafat, and tomorrow we will came to the airport to travel - this airport which has been closed for years will be open for the world. This airport is the Palestinian window to the world.

This [Israeli] withdrawal is a salute to our martyrs; we are enjoying today. This step will be followed by other steps. This is a first step - we will continue in the West Bank and God willing, in Jerusalem. These steps came with the passion of our people, our martyrs and our prisoners."

It only takes a few minutes of watching news coverage of the withdrawal and Palestinian celebration to understand their perception. The Palestinian militant organizations - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Brigades - all feel vindicated. They believe that their guerilla and terrorist operations over the last few decades are finally paying off.

Rather than lessening the violence, the withdrawal may lead to increased violence as the Palestinians (including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Brigades) move toward what 'Abbas has declared "the next step" - the West Bank and Jerusalem.