Israel's defense minister is predicting a moderate and pragmatic Palestinian leadership is likely to emerge after Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the Israeli foreign minister joined the ranks of government ministers in favor of a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
The Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, says he is confident of seeing a revival of peace talks once a unilateral withdrawal of troops and Jewish settlements from Gaza has been completed.
He foresees the possibility that a pullback could be the catalyst for the building of a new Palestinian leadership, one with which Israel could negotiate.
Mr. Mofaz acknowledges he had been opposed to Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, which some observers say inspired the Palestinian uprising that began later that same year. He says he does not have the same reservations about a pullback from Gaza, which he sees as militarily, politically, and economically beneficial to Israel.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also announced he would back Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. "Despite the many painful and ideological aspects, I have decided to support the prime minister's plan," he said.
In a separate development, Israel's military intelligence chief, General Aharon Ze'evi Farkash, said a withdrawal from Palestinian areas would result in a reduction of Palestinian terrorism. He was testifying before the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee.
The general's comments appear to support Mr. Sharon's claims that disengaging from some areas would help reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians and thereby lower violence in the region.
Mr. Sharon is campaigning for support before a referendum of his ruling Likud party on the plan. The vote is scheduled for early May.