Gaza becomes a de facto state in dire need of aid
Just as only Richard Nixon could have gone to China, only Arial Sharon could have ceded Gaza to the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's bona fides as a hard-liner made it possible for him to announce that Israelis would be pulled out -- by force if necessary -- from settlements established in Gaza.
But even his reputation has not been able to stifle dissent, and there remains as possibility of heavy resistance and even violence as the month-long pull-out begins.
Some 8,500 Israeli settlers occupy 21 settlements in Gaza, which was captured during the 1967 war. Gaza is home to 1.4 million Palestinians, many of them desperately poor and dangerously disaffected. The cost to Israel of maintaining and protecting those tiny, heavily fortified settlements was prohibitive.
But more than that, the settlements were a symbol of the continuing belief of some Israelis that Gaza is part of a Greater Israel to which they are entitled, based on God's promise to the Jews.
As long as some Israelis espouse the existence of a Greater Israel, some Palestinians will dream of the day when Arab nations unite and drive the Jews into the sea.
Sharon's dismantling of the settlements in Gaza will not stop zealots on either side from dreaming of destroying the other. In the short run, it might even increase tensions. Even Israelis who believe in the need to pull out of Gaza will be rankled by the inevitable celebrations of Palestinians who will dance in the street claiming victory.
But in the long run, sane men and women on both sides of the battle lines know that they are going to have to reach an accommodation on boundaries -- and that neither side is going to be wholly satisfied.
Gaza is a forsaken land. Israel tried to give it back to Egypt when those nations signed a peace accord, and Egypt wouldn't have it.
As the Israelis leave, taking even their buried dead with them for interment in Israel, the homes they leave behind will be destroyed. Only the commercial greenhouses will be saved, and those only because James Wolfensohn, the U.S. envoy and former head of the World Bank, privately raised $14 million, including $500,000 of his own money, to buy and preserve them.
Those greenhouses are among the few potential economic assets available to the Palestinians living there. The unemployment rate is over 50 percent and 80 percent of the families live in poverty. Many leave Gaza to find jobs in Israel, but that is a tenuous prospect, given to being shut off in reaction to acts of terrorism.
No airport runway
Gaza has no functioning seaport or airport. Israel closed both of them and destroyed the airport runway. Israel also continues to control Gaza's water and electricity.
The government of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is problematic, as is its ability to provide security. Abbas, who has called for elections Jan. 21, faces a serious political rival in the militant group Hamas. Gaza provides Hamas with its strongest support.
Gaza, now a de facto independent state, is a potential tinderbox. The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- all of which have tried for decades to broker some semblance of peace in the Middle East -- will have to move quickly in providing investment and markets for Gaza. Israel must facilitate trade and travel.
Otherwise, Gaza has the potential to become a gigantic time bomb -- more so, even, than now.