Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank carries the potential to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians and create the core of a larger Palestinian state. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon clearly implied as much at the UN on Sept. 15. However, Palestinian behaviour in recent weeks makes it look like the Palestinian streak of ‘never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity’ is set to continue.
First, it was literally only minutes after the IDF left the Gaza Strip that we saw the highly disturbing scenes of Palestinian mobs looting, demolishing and setting alight the synagogues that were left behind. Those who argue that this was okay because the synagogues “symbolised occupation” to Palestinians should be asked if they think it would also be okay for Israeli Jews or Indian Hindus to destroy mosques if they believe they “symbolised the Muslim occupation” of holy places traditionally Jewish or Hindu.
Palestinian looters did not stop there. The next target was dozens of greenhouses, bought from Israeli settlers and transferred to the Palestinian Authority by the World Bank and American donors. According to Palestinian sources, looters destroyed 30% of the greenhouses meant to play a central role in plans for rebuilding Gaza’s economy.
Then for a whole week the Philadelphi route saw scenes of anarchy with tens of thousands of Palestinians crossing the border into and out of Egypt without any checks whatsoever. According to intelligence estimates, thousands of assault rifles, grenade launchers and other weapons were smuggled into Gaza. Israel also fears that al-Qaeda operatives used the situation to enter the Gaza Strip. PA Chairman Abbas claimed several times that the border was to be closed but was defied and challenged by Hamas who threatened to blow ten holes in the fence for every hole the PA fills.
Rule of the gun seemed to be everywhere. Hamas publicly defied Abbas’ call for them to disarm by holding mass demonstrations of armed men in Gaza. A prominent Palestinian, Moussa Arafat, was murdered in broad daylight after an extended gunfight, and the security forces did nothing. In the West Bank town of Nablus, Palestinian policemen went on a rampage, setting houses on fire and shooting indiscriminately, following the killing of one of their colleagues by a rival Palestinian security service.
Between disengagement and the West Bank security fence, Israel can obtain a reasonable, if imperfect, level of security even if Palestinians continue their current path of chaos and rule by gun-toting thugs. But if the Palestinian Authority cannot take control on all fronts and restore the rule of law both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, it will only move Palestinians further away from realising their dream of an independent and functioning state, and cause ordinary Palestinians more suffering. Both peoples deserve better.