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Israel Withdrawing From Gaza After 38 Years

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Gaza is a small area on the Mediterranean coast. It is long but narrow. Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt in the nineteen sixty-seven war. It also captured the West Bank from Jordan. The war lasted six days. It began when Arab countries attacked Israel.

More than one million Palestinians live in Gaza. So do around eight thousand five hundred Jewish settlers. Next week, the Israeli government wants them to leave their twenty-one settlements.

Thousands of Israeli troops and police will help the settlers move out. After Wednesday, the troops will use force to remove any who stay. Soldiers will destroy all of the houses. The Palestinians want to build their own.

However, on Friday, an Israeli economic cooperation group announced a deal. Officials say the settlers agreed to sell most of the structures in which they grew plants on their farms. American special representative James Wolfensohn collected about fourteen million dollars to buy the greenhouses for the Palestinians. He is the former president of the World Bank.

[On Saturday, in the New York Times, Mister Wolfensohn said most of the money came from six wealthy Americans. He did not identify them. He also gave five hundred thousand dollars of his own money.]

Conservative and religious political parties in Israel oppose the withdrawal from Gaza. Opponents say Israel will not be any safer from attacks. Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu resigned as finance minister in protest. Opponents say the land is part of what they call Greater Israel. They say God promised it to the Jews. Yet public opinion research shows that sixty percent of the people in Israel support the withdrawal.

Under the plan, the Palestinian National Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas will govern the territory. A special force trained by Egypt is to keep order. Officials say the biggest change will be the end to the travel restrictions in occupied Gaza. But Israel will continue to control the border, coast and air space.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced the withdrawal plan in December of two thousand three. He said it would strengthen Israeli security, ease the responsibilities of the Israeli Defense Forces and reduce tensions with the Palestinians. But Israelis says real peace negotiations can begin only when Palestinian officials disarm groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Palestinians hope for an independent nation with Jerusalem as the capital. Yet many see the Gaza withdrawal only as a way for Israel to increase control of the West Bank. The West Bank has two hundred forty thousand Israeli settlers and more than two million Arabs.

Four small settlements in the West Bank are to be removed under the withdrawal plan. Prime Minister Sharon says the major ones will stay. But he suggested in comments reported Friday that more settlers could leave in the future.

In Gaza City on Friday, Palestinian officials held a big celebration of the withdrawal just days away.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are on the Web at I’m Steve Ember.