NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza – After Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza evacuation plan is implemented this summer, Israel will need to withdraw from other areas if it wants to achieve peace with its neighbors, Palestinian negotiation minister Saeb Erekat told WND in an exclusive interview today.
“Of course Gaza cannot be the end of it. There needs to be a process. Peace requires a two-state solution, one that includes Jerusalem,” said Erekat, speaking to WND from the West Bank.
Sharon this summer plans to evacuate all Jewish communities from the Gaza Strip and four from West Bank settlements. He has said there would be no more withdrawals after his plan is carried out, but Israeli officials have hinted at giving up other territories, including eastern Jerusalem.
Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose statements are considered closely aligned with Sharon’s policy, said in June he is willing to cede Israeli control over at least six Arab neighborhoods that lie on the periphery of Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is dear to me, but one must not lose sight of proportions over peripheral areas we do not need,” Olmert said.
Israel has been holding talks with Palestinian security officials about coordinating the withdrawal to ensure an orderly transition of power in Gaza. A summit between Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is planned for June 21 to further discuss methods of cooperation.
Erekat said the PA is interested in working with Sharon’s office and has taken steps to temper Hamas violence.
“Absolutely we want to do this together,” Erekat said. “We will do our best to make sure everything is done peacefully. Now we are trying to bring calm to the areas.”
Hamas regularly fires mortar and Qassam rockets into the Jewish Gaza communities. A rocket attack this week killed two workers in a Jewish greenhouse. Analysts have warned the attacks will escalate as the Gaza withdrawal draws closer so Hamas can claim it has driven Israel from the area.
Critics worry that after the Gaza evacuation Hamas will use the territory gained to stage rocket attacks deeper inside Israel and say the terror group is poised to assume control of Gaza.
Erekat conceded Hamas may gain control in Gaza after the withdrawal is carried out.
“We are having elections and whoever wins elections will be in charge,” said Erekat.
Hamas won 77 out of 118 council seats in municipal elections in the Gaza Strip in January and is widely expected to do well in upcoming parliamentary elections, which the PA has been trying to delay, sources say, for fear of a Hamas victory.
“I hope the Gaza disengagement will be a soft landing on both [Israeli and Palestinian] sides. We want to move on to the next stage,” said Erekat.