There is no doubt that Israel plans to withdraw completely and totally from the Gaza Strip. What remains to be answered is when and how. But until the withdrawal actually takes place, many more will die, more hardship, anger and hatred will take place. Israelis and Palestinians will undoubtedly see bad days. Why?
The only way to explain this continued carnage is psychology. No credible military reason exists for continuing the occupation of Gaza. Both parties are interested in perception. How the withdrawal will be seen by the other.
The Israeli army and political brass are concerned that such a withdrawal at a time of Palestinian attacks will be considered by Palestinians a victory.
They want to make sure that when they withdraw no one in the Palestinian community will be able to interpret this as an act of weakness. On the other hand, Palestinians want to be sure that the world doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t interpret the upcoming Israeli withdrawal as anything but a result of sacrifice and resistance. Israeli expectations that their acts will be a deterrence to Palestinians have long lost their powers as Palestinians simply lost their effectiveness as Palestinians have shown that nothing will deter them.
Palestinians and Israelis alike of course are looking more to the West Bank than to Gaza. Since the Israelis have made up their mind about quitting Gaza, the issue of the depth of the withdrawal from the West Bank will be the real hard nut to crack. Israel wants to make sure that the Palestinians are weakened to a degree that will lower their expectations. Palestinians are also worried that the unilateral withdrawal might become the preferred Israeli mode and will apply to the West Bank. With the security wall built deep inside the West Bank territories, the fear is that the Israelis will use that wall as their future borders with Palestine, despite their claims to the contrary.
The problem with perception is that it is much more difficult for the Israelis to give the impression of a withdrawal based on strength. The casualties among Israelis both military, civilian and settlers has been high. A crazy one upmanship situation has evolved with Israelis and Palestinians competing who can inflict more pain to the other.
Ariel Sharon who has been at the heart of the current Gaza situation has climbed a high tree that will be hard to climb down. By refusing to negotiate a withdrawal from Gaza with the Palestinian Authority he has plunged the strip into this unprecedented violence that has reaped Palestinian and Israeli lives homes and livelihoods.
The international community must not allow this senseless killings to continue. One important way they can help save Palestinians and Israelis from each other is to move quickly to negotiate and supervise a cease fire.
Such a cease fire will need to be binding on both sides and include stopping attacks against individuals and properties both in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.
International powers like the UN or NATO can help the two embattled parties by sending troops to observe the cessation of attacks. At the same time political and diplomatic effort aimed at negotiating a short term one for the proper and orderly Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will help create the kind of atmosphere that will make future final status negotiations regarding the West Bank and other issues much more possible.
After 37 years of a military occupation, the Israeli presence in the Gaza strip looks likely to be ending soon. People of goodwill must help make sure that this end is done without any further bloodshed and pain. To accomplish that, the Israeli occupying forces will need to bite the bullet and try to cut their losses and negotiate an orderly withdrawal that will not leave any more dead bodies and demolished homes.