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Will anarchy or order prevail in Gaza?

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MOSCOW, (Yevgeny Satanovsky, President of the Institute of the Middle East, for RIA Novosti). -- The Israelis are leaving the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians.

This is in accordance with the plan put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and approved by Washington. Although the Israelis were hated in Gaza, they were a force capable of embodying law and order. There is no such force any more, and the future of Gaza is uncertain.

Thirty-eight years ago the Israelis won Gaza from the Egyptians, who had possessed it for almost two decades. For the last decade, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) exercised administrative authority over the areas of the Gaza Strip outside the limits of the Israeli settlements. During that time, the standard of living of the population fell drastically; the social structure disintegrated; Palestinian businessmen, including practically all the Christians, left Gaza, and militants took their place. There is no centralized authority in Gaza and violence is rampant. Over 700 armed formations obey only their own leaders or the dictate of stronger brethren. Both the head of the PNA, Abu Mazen, and the veterans of the rival Fatah movement, have nothing but an ephemeral influence in Gaza.

Palestinian Gaza has descended into lawlessness and anarchy. Egypt is prepared to establish control over the border of the Gaza Strip in order to prevent the Islamic fundamentalists, who are the dominant ideological force in Gaza, from supporting the terrorists who have become more active on the Sinai Peninsula ahead of the Egyptian presidential elections. However, Egypt will not interfere in the situation within Gaza.

Few people doubt that the additional billons of dollars given by the international community for the development of the Gaza Strip will meet the same fate as money previously given to the PNA: it will vanish into thin air, without solving a single problem. The same applies to the property left by the Israelis. The Israeli settlements in Gaza accounted for 15% of Israel's agricultural production, yielding profits of tens of millions of dollars annually. However, when there is no rule of law, the point at issue is simply whether the process of dividing up the property left by the Israelis will lead to another bloody clash between Palestinian clans or worse still, to a larger-scale civil war.

The presence of the Israelis in Gaza allowed the Palestinians to vent their anger, but now the Israelis have gone. If the Palestinians had a leader who resolutely stood for creation, not destruction, a statesman, not a revolutionary, they could confidently look to the future. However, they have no such leaders. For decades the Palestinian elite fought for a Palestine that would emerge after the elimination of Israel. Israel's withdrawal renders this fight meaningless.

Therefore, the fight against Israel will continue even if the Israelis also leave the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Israel's opponents see the pullout from Gaza, just like Israel's previous withdrawal from Lebanon, not as a gesture of goodwill or a basis for talks, but as a sign of weakness, that only provokes further attacks. The leaders of Islamic terrorist organizations are certain that it is they who are defeating Israel, and seek to capitalize on Israel's perceived weakness.

Therefore, Gaza will most probably turn into a huge, degrading favela (the Latin American word for shanty towns or slums). Favelas pose a lethal threat to their neighbors, especially to rich ones. Any resources allocated to reconstruct these areas are swallowed up by the favelas without leaving a trace. They are an economic and social dead-end.

Gaza and indeed Palestine as a whole threaten the security of their neighbors and the rest of the world. The realities are such that in order to halt this threat strict external administration and a permanent military police presence should be introduced for the duration of at least one generation. Such administrative and military-police control is more pressing here than in Afghanistan or Iraq. The point at issue is basic order, not American-style democracy, which the United States is trying to export to the Middle East as stubbornly and pointlessly as the Soviet Union tried to peddle Marxism in its time. The situation in Gaza is reminiscent of Afghanistan on the eve of the Soviet withdrawal. In Afghanistan, a short lull preceded the outbreak of fierce internal fighting, Islamic dictatorship that gave shelter to all sorts of terrorists, and the western occupation that turned "democratized" Afghanistan into a criminal drug state.

Gaza could meet the same fate as Afghanistan. For the time being, all we have are various predictions. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pinning her hopes on the withdrawal of the Israeli settlements. If her hopes prove founded, the Arab countries will recognize Israel and establish stable relations with it, while the Palestinian terrorists will be so grateful for the Israeli withdrawal that they will stop sending their children out as suicide bombers. However, if the critics of the Gaza pullout are right, then Sharon is a Latin American-style dictator rather than the savior of the nation; Israel is on the brink of a civil war; and further pressure from the U.S. and international organizations could set the country on the verge of self-destruction.

As for Palestine, it is yet unclear whether it will become the territory of clan anarchy ruled by Islamic terrorists, or the law and order will be brought there by the U.S. and NATO. If there are no volunteers, Israel will have to send its army back in, though this time it would be the next generation of Israelis, and the bloodshed would be greater.

There is also a theory (advocated by ardent opponents of America) that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza is part of a treacherous American plan to perpetuate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Those who sympathize with Washington, recall Winston Churchill, who believed that the Americans would always do the right thing... after they'd exhausted all the alternatives. Whether Israel and the Palestinians will live to see the Americans doing "the right thing" is another matter.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinion of the editorial board.

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