Israel warned it could provoke third intifada
A key Palestinian cabinet minister has claimed that Israel's refusal to give detailed answers on Gaza disengagement was threatening to make the planned withdrawal a "failure" and pave the way to a third Palestinian uprising.
Mohammed Dahlan launched a fierce attack on Ariel Sharon's government yesterday for refusing to give the Palestinian Authority more detailed plans of the area it was vacating, and for not committing to the access to external markets needed by Gaza to revitalise its economy.
Mr Dahlan, the Civil Affairs Minister responsible for co-ordinating the non-security aspects of disengagement with Israel, complained that, on present showing, the plan would simply mean a "repackaging of the occupation" in the Gaza Strip and would not be a success as a means of advancing the peace process.
Mr Dahlan said he was not "surprised by the behaviour of Israel because I believe Israel wants to delay all the decisions till the final moment and then blame the Palestinians for the failure of disengagement".
He added: "What the Israelis are really doing is to create the conditions for a third intifada to take place."
Citing Israel's refusal to give positive answers on the use of crossing points in and out of Gaza, including the currently distant possibility of Israel allowing the Strip's airport to be rebuilt, on the control regime that will apply to the southern border with Egypt, and on "safe passage" between Gaza and the West Bank, Mr Dahlan said the PA had heeded the call from the international community to co-ordinate the withdrawal plan with Israel.
But he had "begun to question" whether Mr Sharon wanted Gaza disengagement to be the beginning rather than the end of a peace process. "If what the Israelis are trying to do is make the Palestinians partners in making Gaza into a big prison cell, then we are not going to co-operate."
Mr Dahlan's criticisms came as the Israeli Supreme Court gave the final go-ahead to the disengagement plan by rejecting settlers' petitions in a ruling that the plan was constitutional.
The Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said Israel wanted to co-ordinate the withdrawal with the Palestinians but had concerns about their leadership's ability to curb militant violence, which on Tuesday included a rocket attack which killed three settlement workers.
"What we've seen over the past few days with terrorist groups firing rockets into Israel from Gaza is not a good sign," he said. "The Palestinians have to play their part."
Mr Dahlan said the settlers' flourishing $200m-a- year, 1,000-acre, hothouse industry had been trumpeted as a means of reviving Gaza's economy but the project would fail unless the new owners were given the same access to export markets as the settlers had.
He also complained that the high-speed rail link between Gaza and the West Bank which had been proposed by Israel would take at least three years to build and that under present plans there would be no means until then of connecting Gaza with the West Bank, much the bigger part of the future state to which the Palestinians aspire.
Mr Dahlan also claimed it was cheaper to transport goods between the southern Israeli port of Ashdod and China than between Ashdod and Gaza because of the lengthy security-related delays through the Karni cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel.
At a heated meeting on Monday night, Palestinian negotiators refused to accept what Mr Dahlan said were maps between four and 10 years out of date of the settlement areas which he claimed were easily obtainable "on the internet, in bookshops or libraries". Instead, he said, the Palestinians needed up-to-date material on the buildings and infrastructure to draw up plans for the 17 per cent of Gaza territory currently occupied by the settlers and the Israeli military.
Israel has not yet decided whether to reverse its earlier decision to demolish the 1,500 settler homes, or whether to withdraw Israeli troops from the southern Gaza border with Egypt.