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Palestinians Look to Israeli Pullout


In five days Israel will start its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a small part of the West Bank, and already some Jewish settlers are handing in their weapons to the Israeli army. There's been a lot of talk about the potential for violence when the pullout begins, but there are also a number of unresolved issues, many of them having to do with the future of Gaza after the withdrawal. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Jerusalem to help sort out some of these issues.

Peter, let's start with homes. I understand there is agreement on what will happen to settlers' homes.

PETER KENYON reporting:

It seems fairly clear, Michele, that these homes will be demolished. That, of course, raises the question of what happens to those--that huge pile of stone and other materials. Some of it can be recycled for the building of Palestinian buildings. But anything with asbestos, for instance, or other hazardous materials has to have some special disposal. Negotiations have been ongoing with folks including Egypt and the World Bank. Some of the details are still to be worked out, but it looks like those houses will be demolished and synagogues will also be destroyed.

NORRIS: And what about the movement of people and their belongings? What, if any, movement will be allowed for Gazans once the withdrawal is complete?

KENYON: Well, it's a big issue and not just personal belongings but commercial goods as well. There are a lot of issues in this one area. On the southern border with Egypt Israel has recently said it wants to shift the crossing point to the southeast corner of Gaza. That's where Egyptian, Gazan and Israeli territory meet. That would allow Israel to maintain customs officials there. They could have a veto over what can get into Gaza from Egypt.

The Palestinians don't like this. They want an Egyptian-Palestinian affair only, although they say if that's a problem, they might be willing to have a third party oversee things. There's also the airport. There's a seaport that's never been built in Gaza. If the Palestinians can find the money, they may be able to rebuild these things. In the case of the port, it's going to take a couple of years probably. The airport could probably be done sooner, but there's no guarantee on whether they'll be allowed to operate it. Israel, of course, still controls the airspace. So a lot of these questions and the question of safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank all remain to be resolved.

NORRIS: And a lot of questions regarding the economy--a lot of questions there that have yet to be worked out.

KENYON: Absolutely. The situation for the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza is quite dismal. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement are not likely to get a lot of credit for this withdrawal. It is a unilateral Israeli move, after all. What we're hearing from people there is that people on the street are more likely to accept the view of the Hamas gunmen, who will say, `This is a big victory for our policy of violent resistance to occupation.' And if, as some people fear, Gaza becomes even more tightly sealed up, more of a prison than it already is, that will play to the strengths of Hamas, not Mahmoud Abbas.

Israelis, meanwhile, are very much concerned about future terror attacks in the West Bank and in Israel itself. And they may well hunker down, build the barrier that's now going up in and around the West Bank and wait and see what comes out of Gaza.

NORRIS: Peter, help us understand the process. It will be some time before these Gaza settlements and the four West Bank settlements are emptied. Once that's done, is that the end of it, or is there more to come?

KENYON: That really is a huge question at this point. There's one school of thought that opponents of this settlement evacuation need to make the process as difficult and stressful as possible, with the aim that any future Israeli leader, be it Ariel Sharon or someone else, would get the message that this is too painful to try to repeat elsewhere in the West Bank.

Another more optimistic argument holds that Palestinians--if they manage to create a reasonable success in Gaza, they might provide impetus to a fresh round of diplomacy. The problem, at this point, is that there's severe political rifts on both sides. Ariel Sharon's Likud Party is divided. Mahmoud Abbas is facing huge struggles. A lot of things will have to go right for this disengagement to produce the kind of momentum its supporters are hoping for.

NORRIS: Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, Michele.

NORRIS: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.