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What Lies Ahead after Israel’s Withdrawal from Gaza

On Monday (Aug 15) Israel began its official withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which includes all 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Encounter, David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called disengagement a “critical first step” in building a two-state solution. He argued that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the patron of the settler movement, is the only leader who could take that first step by evacuating the settlements, thereby facilitating further withdrawals.

Mr. Makovsky rejected the theory that “Gaza first means Gaza last,” but he also cautioned that, if rockets fall on Israel after it leaves, it will have a negative impact. However, if disengagement succeeds, it will be a “boon to moderates” and will revive the political center in Israel.

Dr. Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, agreed with Mr. Makovsky that success in Gaza would be the “greatest step so far in bringing about peace between Palestinians and Israelis.” Nonetheless, it was entirely possible that “some renegade elements” might pursue violence.

David Makovsky described Palestinian preparedness to take over from the Israelis the “day after” they leave Gaza as very uncertain. He said that providing economic opportunities and employment for Palestinians without threatening Israeli security is key to bringing people hope for the future. Ziad Asali agreed with Mr. Makovsky that economic assistance is of major significance in showing Palestinians there are “serious rewards” for the path Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has chosen.

David Makovsky said it is important to renew the roadmap after disengagement and, if it goes “reasonably well,” he thinks both parties should focus on the “first phase” of the roadmap with help from American diplomacy, particularly because Prime Minister Sharon is being challenged by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while President Abbas is being challenged by Hamas. That includes Palestinians taking concrete steps on terrorism and Israelis dealing with settlement issues in the West Bank during what is likely to be a “potentially polarizing political season” for both societies.

According to Dr. Asali, both sides now need to help each other win elections, which depend on how they handle the challenges within their own communities. He described an “ironic situation” in which Hamas could lead to the election of Mr. Netayahu, if disengagement does not go smoothly. And finally, Dr. Asali said, the United States has an indispensable role in helping both Palestinians and Israelis.

For full audio of the program Encounter click here