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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 8

A Palestinian View:
A two-phase plan

by Ghassan Khatib

Israel has insisted from the very beginning that its "disengagement" from Gaza, including the evacuation of settlements, was a unilateral move performed in its own interests and for its own purposes. Israel negotiated the plan with itself and it was passed in the Knesset without input from the Palestinian side or any consideration for what would happen there next.

For their part, Palestinians indeed feel that the plan was designed not only in disregard but at the expense of their needs. Their assessment is backed by the international community in the shape of the World Bank that has been unable to find any economic advantage to the plan with a continuing siege on the Gaza Strip.

Invited only last week to "coordinate" with Israel on the plan, Palestinians are naturally loath to do so, since, in light of the above, there seems to be very little to coordinate on. Indeed, this Israeli move toward coordination appears merely cosmetic, and the presence of Israeli Deputy Premier Shimon Peres merely adds to the suspicion that it is no more than a PR exercise.

Nevertheless, Palestinians have been trying to lay their own plans on how to deal with the post-disengagement scenario, including what should happen to the evacuated settlements. Settlements, beyond their obvious imperialist element, have rarely done anything but contradict indigenous interests and have been built with no thought for local environmental factors or realities. For example, the Gaza settlements' agricultural projects are water intensive in an area where water for the indigenous population is at a premium. In addition, they are not labor intensive enough for Palestinian needs in an area where over one-third of the population is unemployed.

The Palestinian Authority is intending to deal with the Gaza settlements in two phases. In the short term, the PA will seek to maintain as much as possible any benefits that can be gleaned from the existing agricultural and industrial projects. For that purpose the private sector is going to play a leading role aided by technical and financial support from the donor community.

The PA will also try to benefit from any infrastructure that might be left intact, but at the level of housing this is not a high-priority issue. The existing housing units are not particularly useful to the Palestinian population in the overcrowded Gaza Strip. It's worth clarifying here, that from a Palestinian perspective and from the perspective of international law, these settlements are illegal and as such neither Israel nor the settlers have any right to discuss the issue of compensation or sale. On the contrary, according to international law, Israel is required to compensate the Palestinian Authority and in some cases individuals for the illegal use of land these properties were built on.

In the long term, existing projects and infrastructure may well be redeveloped to better suit Palestinian development goals and needs. Indeed, such more fundamental restructuring may even be necessary in the short term if Israel insists on maintaining its siege on Gaza. Many of the existing projects are export-oriented and consist of perishable products such as roses and fruit. Such projects are not viable if borders are closed.

The PA will cope as best it can. It has had no input on the whole Israeli withdrawal process, and whatever morsel of coordination offered it now will be merely cosmetic.- Published 28/2/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Bitterlemons-international.org is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 16-08-2004



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