What happens next in the tiny, dusty patch of land known as Gaza has engaged experts, partisans and observers around the world in intense speculation and debate. Is Israel's "disengagement" from Gaza the beginning or the end of Israeli territorial concessions? Will Gaza become a haven or a prison? Will Israel and Palestine remain one state or become two? What is Ariel Sharon up to? Can Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas contend with militant Palestinian factions? What should the United States' role be?
Here is a snapshot of best guesses, analyses and declarations that appeared in the op-ed pages of an array of English-language newspapers around the world between August 18 and August 30, the eve and the sunset of the forced removal of Israeli settlers from Gaza: from Jewish and Arab perspectives, from within the borders of Israel and even a hemisphere away, all asking: What now?
From Haaretz, a leading Israeli daily newspaper:
Writing as one who has proposed a one-state framework, I would like to suggest that the gulf between the one-state and two-state formulas is not as profound as it seems to be. There is not so much difference between two states closely cooperating on security, economics, business, labor and the environment and one state where there is maximum religious, cultural and educational autonomy. National sovereignty is a relatively recent concept. It is not carved in stone. In Europe and other parts of the world it is proving resilient, but not inevitable. New concepts can be considered; novel structures can be created. Maybe the final answer for us is located somewhere between binationalism, federation and confederation.
The real fault line, then, is between those of us who are prepared, even eager, to live within our environment and those who would rather pretend that it doesn't exist. The essential question that we Israeli Jews must ask ourselves, following disengagement, is this: Are we prepared to live together with our Arab neighbors or do we want to cut ourselves off from them? Do we wish to integrate into the Middle East or to exist as a foreign enclave in the region? Only when we have resolved this basic question can we start considering the alternative road maps and models.
-- Daniel Gavron, opinion
From The Jerusalem Post:
Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has handed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a rare opportunity. He shouldn't blow it.
At an immense price for thousands of Israelis forced out, Sharon has wiped the slate clean in Gaza. If Abbas were to rise to the challenge, he would create a model self-rule area there and show Israel and the watching world a new, constructive Palestinian reality.
America needs to stand firm, and publicly so, on Abbas's road map obligations to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.
The onus is on Abbas to show his people how to make constructive use of the opportunity presented to them, at so painful a price, by Sharon.
[Gaza's settlers] have shown us what it takes to move 8,000 Jewish settlers out of a far corner of the land of Israel [that has] no great strategic value or Jewish historical significance. Does anyone care to imagine what it would take to move 60,000 or 70,000 settlers out of the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, which sits smack in the middle of this country, scant kilometers from Jerusalem?
Just the physical logistics of it would be mind-boggling. Although the Gaza Strip was easily isolable, thousands of protestors have slipped through the army's cordon. Even with its security fence, this is not true of the West Bank. An attempted evacuation of settlements [there] could easily result in tens of thousands of protestors flowing into any one of them. The entire Israeli army couldn't handle this, even if reinforced by the navy and the air force -- and if military insubordination has been relatively minor this summer, it could swell to malignant proportions in such a situation.
In a word, it's not going to happen. The settlers can wipe the tears from their eyes and start smiling. The Palestinians giddily celebrating our departure from Gaza might as well make it as big a bash as they can because they won't have an opportunity for another one soon.
-- Hillel Halkin, opinion
From Al-Ahram, a weekly newspaper published in Cairo:
Israel wants to retain control over airspace, territorial waters, borders and ports of entry. Even on this small patch of land, Palestinian control will only be partial. Sharon's version of disengagement is clearly intended as a facade, disguising the lack of substance -- the territorial sovereignty -- that is a condition of statehood.
From the Tehran Times:
...Israel's withdrawal from Gaza is part of a plan hatched by Sharon to deceive public opinion so that he can refuse to hand over Beit-ul-Moqaddas [Jerusalem] to the Palestinian Authority in the future.
-- Hassan Hanizadeh, opinion
From The Daily Star (Lebanon):
For all the main parties -- Israelis and Palestinians directly, the United States, the Arab states and the Europeans indirectly -- this is also something of a repeat performance, a post-Oslo and post-second-intifada second chance at sensible Israeli and Palestinian statesmanship that does not often pass one's way in the business of nation-building.
From The Jordan Times:
What remains to be seen is at what point the Arab leadership and the PA [Palestinian Authority] will recognise the need to enter the fray by organising nonviolent mass resistance to Sharon's efforts, coupled with a serious information campaign to transform public opinion in the West. That could make a difference and change the current dynamic.
-- James J. Zogby, opinion
From the Asharq Alawsat, a pan-Arab daily newspaper published in London:
When push comes to shove will the Palestinian Authority confront its fundamentalists in the same way that Israel confronted the religious zealots in the settlements? When the greater good of Palestinians is at stake, is the Palestinian Authority willing to curb the activities of Hamas? ... A Gaza free of settlers and soldiers is Mahmoud Abbas's chance to show Palestinians how far he is willing to go to assert his authority.
-- Mona Eltahawy, opinion
From The Jakarta Post (note that Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, more than 200 million, about 88 percent of its total population):
The Gaza Strip and the West Bank belong to the future state of Palestine, of which Jerusalem will be its capital. There cannot and should not be compromise on this matter.
From The Economist (London):
Withdrawing might even strengthen Israel's case for keeping control of the West Bank if, as looks likely, the Palestinian Authority turns out to have no authority in Gaza. Some, in fact, think that was Mr. Sharon's calculation.
-- Global Agenda section
A host of opinions from the Guardian (United Kingdom):
Doomed though the Gaza settlers' resistance may be, it lays down a marker for the future. If Mr. Sharon finds it heartbreaking to remove fewer than 10,000 settlers from Gaza and has to spend millions compensating them, he will surely be in no hurry to do the same thing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where more than 300,000 settlers live. These are all grounds for skepticism, but not necessarily for pessimism. Mr. Sharon, for whatever reasons, has created a rare opportunity that must be pushed forward. He must keep up the battle against his rejectionists, as must Mr. Abbas on the Palestinian side. They will need help from the rest of the world. Above all, that means real engagement by Washington.
As settlers grieve, most Israelis approve of the withdrawal as a necessary demographic disengagement from an area that encompasses 2 percent of historical Palestine and 20 percent of all Palestinians. Israel's strategic redeployment around the hostile Strip and its total control over Gaza's ports and crossings allows it, at will, to turn the area into one big prison.
-- Marwan Bishara, opinion
A peaceful transition in Gaza can help swing Israeli public opinion in favor of a similar withdrawal from the West Bank. What Israelis want from a Palestinian-controlled Gaza is an assurance of their security. It is a reasonable demand, though Mr. Abbas's difficulties, including the devastation wrought by Israeli troops over the last few years, have to be taken into account when passing judgment on his performance.
Mr. Sharon has a history of setting goals for the Palestinians that are impracticably high. This should not become yet another pretext for stalling on moves to achieve an overall peace settlement. Determined effort and steady progress in Gaza by Mr. Abbas is one thing: Perfection is too much to expect.
From The New York Times:
While not agreeing with either the settlers or the actions of Palestinian militants, the rest of us must start understanding and respecting them as humans. And it would help if the international news media began portraying ordinary Palestinians, too, with a touch of humanity.
-- Daoud Kuttab, opinion
The Palestinians have done themselves a favor by behaving with restraint during this emotional time. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, knows that for better or worse, the Gaza pullout now puts the burden on the Palestinians to show that they can govern themselves. It would behoove the Arab states to favorably acknowledge the Israeli withdrawal and provide more aid to Mr. Abbas. That would further strengthen his hand among moderate Palestinians, who must be made to see that their best chance for peace and a Palestinian state lies with Mr. Abbas and not militant groups like Hamas and Islamic jihad.
From The Washington Times:
...signs of trouble are everywhere. Over the weekend, a Hamas-affiliated Web site announced that dozens of women in the Gaza Strip had joined its military wing and were planning to carry out attacks against Israel. Hamas boss Mahmoud al-Zahar said last week that his organization is moving its forces to the West Bank and Israeli towns are "settlements" subject to attack. Even as Mr. Abbas was declaring that the Palestinian Authority would control areas evacuated by Israel, dozens of Hamas gunmen held a "press conference" in Gaza City to announce they would target Israel after disengagement.
From The Christian Science Monitor:
Part of [the new reality in Israel] is the tentative foothold of democracy in the Middle East. A Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement would significantly further that trend, sap the attraction of al Qaeda for many Muslims and usher in the security needed to grow prosperity in this troubled region. Bush has put his legacy on the line in Iraq. He should do the same for Israeli-Palestinian peace.