Los Angeles Times: The Israeli Cabinet's approval Sunday of the eviction of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip was a bold demonstration of what has long been considered the basic framework to settle the Israeli-Palestinian clash: trading land for peace. But the good news was blunted by the Cabinet's decision to redraw Israel's borders to include major West Bank settlements on land seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, setting a worrisome precedent.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's push to dismantle the 21 enclaves in the Gaza Strip acknowledges the toll imposed on Israel to defend several thousand settlers in the midst of more than 1 million Palestinians. Yet it is a courageous move in the face of opposition from many in Sharon's own Likud Party and a number of settlers who consider the territory to be God-given land; extremists have vowed to resist the planned removal this summer.
Striving for continuity
The Cabinet also approved removing four settlements in the West Bank, but Israel plans to retain bigger towns there. President Bush last year changed U.S. policy when he recognized "new realities on the ground" that justified Israeli retention of major population centers in the West Bank. But on Monday in Brussels, Belgium, Bush pushed Israel to ensure that it does not retain land in a pattern that leaves Palestinians with a group of unconnected territories. Bush will have to keep prodding Sharon on that point; a Palestinian checkerboard state that prevents farmers from reaching their plots or workers their jobs would not be viable.
Among the West Bank cities that Israel plans to keep is Maale Edumim, near Jerusalem, with its tens of thousands of settlers. The Cabinet included Maale Edumim when it approved routing of the barrier being built to protect Israel against suicide bombers. That defies the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which last year declared the wall's placement an illegal annexation of land. Israel rejected the ruling, which was only advisory.
Israel freed 500 Palestinian prisoners Monday, another move that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, successor to Yasser Arafat, can claim as evidence that stopping assaults on Israelis brings reciprocal benefits. Sharon's meeting with Abbas two weeks ago, the planned withdrawal from Gaza and the ending of assassinations of Palestinians whom Israel considers terrorist leaders have laid the groundwork for an eventual lasting peace. Sharon still has to convince his opponents, and Abbas needs to keep radicals in check, but the progress since Arafat's death is most welcome.