Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pulled off a difficult political feat. Reversing his and his Likud party’s long-held position of "Not One Inch," he persuaded parliament, 67 to 45, to OK an Israeli pullout from Gaza.
Sharon was deserted by many of his allies and supported by many of his normal foes.
The pullout may not happen soon. First, Sharon may have to overhaul his coalition or call elections. And some influential Likud members are trying to force a nationwide referendum. But a poll this week by an Israeli newspaper shows 65 percent of the public supports a pullout and so it appears inevitable.
A pullout only reflects reality. The 8,100 Israeli residents of Gaza, living in heavily fortified compounds on almost 40 percent of the land and surrounded by 1.3 million Palestinians, sit on a demographic time bomb. Palestinian Gaza is one of the world’s most densely populated lands and has one of the highest birth rates. About half of the population is younger than 15.
While the vote also included a pullout from four small West Bank settlements, many Palestinians think Sharon has an ulterior motive — shedding Gaza to justify holding onto large swaths of the West Bank that the Palestinians claim, and annexing East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians had hoped to have for their capital. Their fears may be justified, but in the fall of 2000, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected an agreement that would have given them most of that.
However, getting out of Gaza is not the same as getting rid of it. Israel controls Gaza’s borders and air space; it has closed Gaza’s sole airport and seaport. Gaza depends on Israel for employment, electricity and imports. After 37 years of Israeli rule, Gaza is not a problem Sharon can dump on the world’s doorstep.