NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
The Jewish settlers are gone. Only homes, greenhouses and community centers are left in the settlements of Gaza. Most will be demolished and some passed on when the Palestinian Authority takes control probably some time next month. But while Israelis see the disengagement as nearly complete, Palestinians seek questions about what happens the day after. Some focus on day-to-day necessities--phone service, electrical power, water. Others surround larger issues about the authority of the Palestinian Authority. Who controls air space and coastal waters? Does an Egyptian who wants to visit Gaza need an Israeli visa? Will Palestinian farmers who take over settler greenhouses have access to markets in Israel and the West Bank? And there are political issues including the role of Hamas and whether Palestinians see disengagement as a gesture or as a ploy.
Later in the program, a French newspaper thinks once again it's found the smoking gun that proves Lance Armstrong cheated to win his first Tour de France. But first, the future of Palestinian Gaza. If you have questions about the politics of the hand-off, sovereignty or economic development, our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a few minutes, we'll talk with the Palestinian official in charge of the transition. Later with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. But we begin with Marie Colvin, foreign affairs editor for the Sunday Times of London. She joins us now by phone from a hotel in Gaza.
Thanks very much for being with us this evening.
Ms. MARIE COLVIN (Sunday Times of London): Glad to be here, Neal.
CONAN: What's it like in Gaza city today? Are people celebrating the departure of the settlers?
Ms. COLVIN: No. It's subdued. That may sound surprising because I have been talking to a lot of people today. You know, there's a sudden air of optimism. This has been a fairly hopeless place for a while. But you have to remember the Israelis--I'm sorry, the Israeli army is still in the settlements. In fact, there's a closure now that one-half of Gaza is closed for 12 hours a day. The soldiers are taking equipment out on that road. They don't want Palestinians, you know, anywhere near it. It's kind of sort of an optimistic holding of breath, I would say. They're very happy that the Israelis will be leaving, but it's kind of `I'll believe it when I see it.' They've been, you know, disappointed too many times. I think there will be celebrations when the final Israeli leaves Gaza. I'm sure there will be.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Do we know yet when Israelis will be finished bulldozing houses and also tearing down their own military bases which were there and transfer to the Palestinian Authority?
Ms. COLVIN: Well, that time line changed dramatically over the last week. The evacuation of the 21 settlements in Gaza and then yesterday the four smaller ones in the West Bank was supposed--it was originally scheduled for 12 weeks. The Israeli Ministry of Defense had finally estimated three to four weeks. In fact, it took only six days. So everyone and including senior Israeli commanders I talked to was surprised by that. So the schedule has moved up dramatically.
Yesterday, the army chief of staff estimated that he'd need until about September 3rd to finish destroying all the civilian homes, which is--may sound awful, but it's actually done with the agreement of and preferred by the Palestinians because the sort of smaller, villalike houses with large gardens doesn't--which the settlers lived in, doesn't really suit this densely populated area of 1.3 million people here. So the--by September 3rd, they'll be cleared. The Palestinians actually want to build kind of high-rise to house more of their population. And the general said he'll need another 10 to 13 days to then remove all the army bases, army material out. There's quite a lot here. This was a heavily militarized area.
So that brings us to latest to September 15th is the current Israeli military estimate when the last Israeli will leave Gaza. And that means the Palestinian Authority has to be prepared to take over at three weeks to a month before they had thought seven days ago.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Now what news today of a reported agreement between Israel and Egypt to--regarding Gaza's southern border?
Ms. COLVIN: That's very good news for--particularly for President Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, who really needs to get some, you know, sort of concrete improvements beyond just the Israelis leaving. There has been a kind of dis--well, negotiated for quite a while. It now seems that the Palestinians will control their side of the border. I think there's going to be 2,000 Egyptian soldiers on the other side. That still needs to be--as I understand it, it still needs to be ratified by the Israeli Cabinet, but it does look set that that stretch of border between Gaza and Egypt will be under Palestinian-Egyptian security control.
CONAN: In other words, Israeli troops who had been along that border, well, a long, long time, they are to be withdrawn. This will be, I guess, a regular international border between Gaza and Egypt.
Ms. COLVIN: Yeah. They've been there for 38 years, so it will be a big change. The controversy is not over yet, though, because the actual--probably the most important issue outstanding that is being negotiated between Palestinians and Israelis is the crossing point between Egypt and Gaza and who controls it. That is absolutely fundamental to the success of Gaza, I mean, to the success of this evacuation, to the success of Palestinian Authority, you know, asserting control here and to this being a stable place because it will be the only unfettered access that Gaza has to the rest of the world. There's no port here. Israel controls the sea. There's no airport. There's a destroyed airport and there's still no agreement to reopen it, although that could be rebuilt more quickly than the port, which would take about three years. And it's crucial for Palestinians to have control of that border point largely because that's the only way they can get the economy restarted here.
There's 70 percent unemployment in Gaza by UN statistics. There is the access points controlled by--Israelis are shutting down or being shut down by Israelis or, you know, have such draconian security procedures that any fruit and vegetables trying to go out simply don't make it. So no farmer, for example, can have a stable supply that he could sign up with--either he could sign and guarantee to a purchaser.
CONAN: Because the trucks are in s...
Ms. COLVIN: The standoff now is that the Palestinians want Palestinian and Egyptian control of that crossing and as would be in any other international border and they have agreed that--you know, to allay Israeli security concerns, they've agreed to a third party present, kind of anybody but the Israelis. They've suggested the EU. The Israelis want it moved all the way across Gaza to like the southeast corner. That's the only place that the borders of Israel, Egypt and Gaza converge and that would obviously be their excuse for having an Israeli presence. So that's an absolutely crucial issue still outstanding.
CONAN: Marie Colvin, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
Ms. COLVIN: OK. Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Marie Colvin is the Sunday Times of London foreign affairs editor and joined us by phone from her hotel in Gaza.
The transfer of former settlements in the Gaza Strip to Palestinian control requires all of the utilities to make life run smoothly. Electricity, water, other essentials that were once provided by Israel, they must now be coordinated by Palestinians. Mohammad Samhouri is the general coordinator of the so-called Technical Committee Following Disengagement. He joins us now by phone from Gaza as well.
Thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. MOHAMMAD SAMHOURI (Palestinian Authority General Coordinator of the Technical Committee Following Disengagement): Thank you.
CONAN: And I wanted to get your reaction. Is the agreement on Rafah, how important is that?
Mr. SAMHOURI: Well, it is important for the same reason that the guest that already speak to you mentioned that, Rafah border crossing is absolutely vital for us as exit to Egypt. Other borders, seaport, airport, basically non-existent and the Israelis have their own strict conditions for have them built and operated border crossings to the West Bank, and Israel also controlled by the Israelis. So the only exit for Gazans to the outside world would be Rafah and if Israel maintain control over Rafah, it means that--the feeling is that the Palestinian side have or has already thought about it, that disengagement will transfer Gaza ...(unintelligible) will be materialized.
Mr. SAMHOURI: That's why Rafah and the exit ...(unintelligible) access to Egypt and through Egypt ...(unintelligible) border is very important to us.
CONAN: Are you in negotiations with Israeli officials about some of those more practical issues that we were talking about--electricity, water, phone service, that kind of thing?
Mr. SAMHOURI: Well, I won't call them negotiations. We are basically discussing the implications of disengagement as related to the infrastructure--water, electricity, telecommunications, etc. So there is no negotiations currently under way. But basically trying to see what Israelis will leave behind and what we can operate when they leave.
CONAN: And what are you going to do? I mean, one of the things that you will inherit is enormous amounts of rubble.
Mr. SAMHOURI: That's correct. The initial thinking of the Palestinian is to go about the international law which will demand the Israelis after they knock down all the houses is to basically clean up the area and take the rubble out. Some of our experts think that maybe--and I say `maybe' because the issue is not been resolved yet--maybe some of the debris can be recycled and used to build roads and seaport. But this--again, this is not final and the agreement on what to do with the rubble is not final yet. It's still under discussion with the Israelis.
CONAN: And just a few seconds left with you. That date that Marie Colvin was speculating about, around September 15th, is that now your expectation in terms of a transfer?
Mr. SAMHOURI: Well, pretty much so. As, again, your guest mentioned, other Israelis have evacuated the settlements and remember they did not expect in terms of the time that took them to basically evacuate all the areas. So we actually are ready to--at least technically to get into these areas once the Israelis leave, whether it's September 15th or another date.
CONAN: Mohammad Samhouri, thank you very much. We appreciate you speaking with us today.
Mr. SAMHOURI: Thank you.
CONAN: Mohammad Samhouri is general coordinator of the Technical Committee Following Disengagement for the Palestinian Authority and he joined us by phone from Gaza. We're talking about disengagement through the eyes of Palestinians.
When we return from a short break, we'll hear from a representative of the Palestinian Authority and, of course, we want to hear from you. Call us or e-mail us with your questions about the internal workings of Gaza from police to electrical power, housing to Hamas: (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail: email@example.com.
I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
What happens the day after Israel completes its disengagement from Gaza and transfers control of what used to be settlements and military bases to the Palestinian Authority? We want to hear your questions about this tiny but politically vital bit of land and its ability to be self-sufficient. What does the ongoing internal struggle between the PA and Hamas mean to the future of Gaza? (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining us now to discuss the political future for Palestinians is Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator for the Palestinian Authority. He joins us by phone from his home in Jerusalem.
We appreciate you joining us tonight.
Mr. SAEB EREKAT (Chief Palestinian Negotiator): Thank you, sir.
CONAN: We've been talking just a moment ago about the apparent agreement on the Rafah crossing point. You have emphasized time and again in interviews that, again, access to the outside world is vital to the future of Gaza politically and economically.
Mr. EREKAT: Absolutely. I think we have an opportunity today and this opportunity can be seized provided that we can sustain Gaza economically the day after. Sustaining Gaza economically the day after you need to have transformation of its economy from labor-oriented to goods-oriented, and the first element in this is to have free access to goods, ingoing and outgoing, and at the same time to have a well-connected line of movement of goods, vehicles and persons between the West Bank and Gaza.
And I'm happy to say that the Egyptians and the Israelis have reached an agreement to change the criterias agreed upon in 1979 Camp David on the 14 kilometer stretch between Gaza and Egypt, and I hope that we can also reach an agreement on the passage whereby we offered to have control over the passage with Egyptians along with a third party, and we nominated the European Union. So I hope that we can have this and then we can have the airport operational and can have the free access between the West Bank and Gaza in order to see to it that the day after will be a soft-landing approach.
CONAN: Another issue that is vital for all concerned is security and, well, who runs things in Gaza.
Mr. EREKAT: Well, I think that's a main point. I think for the sake of Palestinians and for the sake of the special fabric of the Palestinian society, we must continue pursuing the line of one authority, one gun, the rule of law and to end all this chaos and lawlessness. Now in this endeavor, President Abbas declared a national registry of elections for January 21st. So we're telling everyone, all Palestinian factions, political parties, groups, coalitions that transfer of authority in the Palestinian society will be done through ballots and not bullets. And we hope everyone will adhere to the rule of law, everyone will ...(unintelligible) of whether they will take part in the elections. I hope that taking part in the elections will make sure that we're building our democracy, not on parallel authority aspects, but on the one-authority, the one gun, the rule of law and the transfer of power and responsibility through ballots and not bullets.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation: (800) 989-8255. E-mail is email@example.com.
And here is Michael. Michael calling us from South Carolina.
MICHAEL (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen. I just wanted to ask one simple question. When the Palestinians take back Gaza and they start their building, etc., if Hamas decides that they don't want to play ball and the terrorist acts start up again, the suicide bombings, etc., what do you think is going to be Israelis' response?
CONAN: Well, Saeb Erekat, I'm not sure you can speak for Israel in this regard. What would be the Palestinian Authority's response?
Mr. EREKAT: Well, I think the Palestinian Authority has made its position very, very clear. It will be a policy of zero tolerance to any who would take the law into their own hands. As I said, we are maintaining the one authority, the one gun and we hope to achieve this through institution building, through democracy. But in case of such occurrence, I think we will honor our commitment in terms of trying to maintain the cease-fire between us and the Israelis, the calm, the quiet, the hudna, and such acts will not be tolerated.
CONAN: Is this--go ahead. I'm sorry, Michael.
MICHAEL: I was just going to say, gentlemen, I certainly hope so because I honestly believe the Israelis have really given the Palestinians a big shoe to fill and it's a good shoe and I wish you all the very best.
Mr. EREKAT: Well, thank you, Michael. I think you should keep in mind that we have been under occupation for the last 38 years. The man who's speaking--Michael, I'm 50 years old now; I was 12 when the occupation came to my hometown, Jericho. So I hope the day after will be a day for healing, reconciliation and reconstruction. We have recognized the state of Israel's right to exist in almost 78 percent of historic Palestine and accepted to live in peace next to the state of Israel in the remaining 22 percent of the land. So I hope and we invite the Israeli government to come back to the negotiating table, because by reviving hope in the minds of Palestinians that we can do peace through negotiations and avoid the violence, I think this is the way for Palestinians and Israelis and I hope we can do it.
MICHAEL: I hope so, too, sir. God bless.
CONAN: Michael, thanks for the call.
MICHAEL: Thank you.
CONAN: And Saeb Erekat, what about economic development? The G8 countries have pledged, I think it's $3 billion to help development in Gaza?
Mr. EREKAT: That's correct. They've pledged $3 billion, so we hope that they start channeling it. We are requesting from the international communities to stand shoulder to shoulder with us. We have asked the Europeans to come and join us at the passage to Egypt, to help us. We can accept another third party at the airport and we want Mr. Wolfensohn and the World Bank to be with us in all the economic development programs. Three billion dollars, believe me, it's not going to be enough but we hope that it's going to be channeled immediately. To create one job in Gaza, you need an investment of $25,000.
Gaza is 362 square kilometers, 1.3 million people, at 5.2 percent population annual growth rate. We're a poor people. As Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza last year, 2004, our GNP stood at $3.2 billion. That's one-over-34--one-over-34 from Israel's GNP, and yet our trade deficit with Israel in 2004 stood at $1.3 billion. So you can see we have a lot to do, but we really count on the international community and rely on them to stand shoulder to shoulder with us so we can have a soft landing the day after, as far as the economics and the hope for peace.
CONAN: Does the Palestinian Authority, in a sense, have a fairly small window? As you mentioned, elections are coming up not too far down the road through all of the Palestinian territories, of course, including Gaza. And if Prime Minister Abbas is not able to show the people that this--he's been able to take advantage of the Israeli disengagement to bring about a better economy, a better life for people, he could be in trouble.
Mr. EREKAT: You're right. I think President Abbas realizes this and that's why President Abbas has been, you know, calling up on all the international community--President Bush, the European Union, the Japanese, Russians, the Arabs--to really help us in order to begin a grand economic recovery program. We need to--I mean, if you take the water--the water in Gaza is depletable. If we don't have what the Americans promised us to do through USAID, the north-south carrier, we call it...
Mr. EREKAT: ...over a stretch of 60 kilometers and then the desalination plants, we're not going to have drinking water by the year 2007. It's as bad as this. The infrastructure is literally non-existent. We need to invest in transferring the economy from labor-oriented to goods-oriented, and at the same time--parallel--we need to really build infrastructure as far as roads, schools, hospitals, water systems, sewage, electricity. Scratch--we're starting from scratch, and that's a long way to go, but I'm confident. I'm confident that we can do it.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Al, Al calling from Eden Prairie in Minnesota.
AL (Caller): Hi there. Pleasure to talk to you, gentlemen. I've just got a quick one. I understand that in the actual power for--the authority is actually being run by the Palestinians; you know, the power's actually been transferred. But when it's all said and done, in terms of things like airspace, you know, international treaties, all that, is, is that actually going to be transferred to Palestinians? I mean, is there going to be real self-control, self-rule? Or is it potentially--you know, something happens, Israel can, you know--feels that they have the right to bop back in there and do what they think they need to do? Or are you actually going to be on your own?
CONAN: Saeb Erekat?
Mr. EREKAT: Al, I think you put your finger on the right point. I think we--you know, we have to keep in mind that this disengagement of Gaza and Israel withdrawal from Gaza and the dismantling of illegal settlements in Gaza did not come about as a result of a negotiated settlement between us and the Israelis. It was their choice. They call it unilateral steps. They negotiated with themselves and said, `We're going to leave.' We said, `We'll help you leaving. And we stand with your leaving. We want a smooth and peaceful transition.'
Now does this constitute an end of occupation? No, it does not. Because the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial unit. Now the Israelis said that they would maintain the control over airspace and so far they have not allowed us to rebuild and reconstruct the airports. We're still talking to them about the prospects of having control over the international passage to Egypt--we call it Rafah terminal--along with a third party, and they continue to maintain control over the territorial waters.
So we--that's the point I was mentioning about the soft-landing approach the day after. If the Israelis insist on keeping all these things in their powers and control, I'm afraid that they're going to change Gaza into the biggest prison in the history of mankind. I hope this will not happen. I hope Gaza disengagement will present an opportunity, and an opportunity can be seized. And I hope this will be the last of Israel's unilateral steps. I'm calling, in my capacity as the chief Palestinian negotiator, for my Israeli colleague to come back to the negotiating table, to revive hope in the minds of Palestinians and Israelis, because at the end of the day, even if the Israelis carried out this disengagement due to the demographic aspect, wanting to get rid of 1.3 million Palestinians, it's not going to work.
At the end of the day, I know it in my heart that there will be a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. We know the endgame. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. So I think this opportunity of Gaza disengagement--we must immediately resume permanent-status negotiations in order to translate and transfer President Bush's vision from original, for a two-step solution, into a realistic political track...
CONAN: Let me ask...
Mr. EREKAT: ...until we can tell the Palestinians that we're going to do this through negotiations and not violence.
CONAN: Just to follow up on Al's point, right now are Palestinian fishermen who live in Gaza, are they allowed to ply their trade?
Mr. EREKAT: Yes, they are. They are allowed to go into the sea, but if the Israelis choose not to allow them, it's up to the Israeli army who patrols that sea to tell them whether to go or not. It's not in our hands. It's very unfortunate.
CONAN: Al, thanks very much for the phone call.
AL: Thank you very much.
CONAN: And just to follow up on--from the Israeli point of view, I mean, they're concerned about security and about large shipments of guns and other things being smuggled in, and we all know that that's happened in the past.
Mr. EREKAT: Sir, that's why we have said to them, `Let's have a third party.' Let's have the Americans in the passage, not the Israelis, and they can check. They can see the concerns. They can stop any smuggling. They can do whatever they want in order to address the concerns about smuggling arms or anything else. But, at the same time, what we need to do is to ensure that we have control and we have access, our people can move freely, and we are not undermining any of the concerns of Israel or anybody else. That's why we are inviting the third party, giving the Europeans, Americans, Japanese, to come to the airport and to come to the harbor and to come to the passage, and make sure that all incoming and outgoing goods are checked, scanned, like what you do in your airports, what you do in your harbors. Come and help us do it.
CONAN: Saeb Erekat, thank you very much for being with us today. We appreciate it.
Mr. EREKAT: Thank you.
CONAN: Saeb Erekat is chief Palestinian negotiator for the Palestinian Authority and he joined us by phone from his home in Jerusalem.
If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News.
Daoud Kuttab is a columnist for the Jordan Times and the Jerusalem Post. He's also director of the Institute for Modern Media at Al-Quds University. He joins us now from the studios of the BBC in Ramallah on the West Bank. Thanks very much for joining us today.
Mr. DAOUD KUTTAB (Jordan Times, Jerusalem Post Columnist): You're welcome.
CONAN: How has the Palestinian public, not just in Gaza, but on the West Bank as well, how have they responded to the Israeli withdrawal?
Mr. KUTTAB: Well, I think, in general, there has been a positive reaction. I think people are worried but basically looking to this as a good step, as a--something positive after so much negativeness has happened. There's also an interesting development that, not only Palestinians, but, I think, most Arabs, have noticed, is the extensive coverage of the settler evacuation has had a kind of an emotional leftover--people have seen, for the first time, settlers in a way that they haven't seen them in the past, in the way that the stereotyping has been happening, which is that they're seeing them in a bit more humane way, that they are accustomed to it, and I think that has surprised many and it has left a mark on many people, I think, in a rather positive way. The people expected much more negative response than they have seen.
CONAN: That on a human level. I wonder, though, on a political level, do Palestinians view the Israeli disengagement as a gesture or as a stratagem of some sort, a ploy?
Mr. KUTTAB: I would say there's mixed answer to this. Most believe and are very worried that the Israelis are getting out of Gaza so that they can dig their heels more in the West Bank, and they see the wall coming up in the West Bank and around all East Jerusalem, and Sharon making statements that they want to expand settlements in the West Bank, especially the Maale Adumim settlement complex, which would divide the West Bank into north and south, and they're really worried about that. So there are people who see that this is a strategic move, but I think there's still more positive than negative in the reaction of most people.
CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the line. This is Carla. Carla calling from Sacramento.
CARLA (Caller): Yes. Actually, my question was really more for Saeb Erekat. I don't know whether this gentleman has much information about that. My question is: What is the US role in this handover? We've been enormously generous with the state of Israel, giving them over $100 billion in foreign aid alone, and another several hundred billion in military aid to facilitate their occupation. What is the United States doing to facilitate the handover?
Mr. KUTTAB: Well, as far as I know, the US government has been working through the--Mr. Wolfensohn, who used to be the head of the World Bank. He's now heading the Quartet, and the--I think today there was an agreement between USAID and the Palestinians to transfer $50 million but you're right that it's really peanuts compared to what the Israelis have gotten over the years, but the US has been, I think, a key target of Ariel Sharon because it's often said that he prefers to make agreements with the US than with the Arabs, and so it was after the--Sharon informed--Mr. Weisglass made the agreement in the White House that really Ariel Sharon went out with his public statement that we've seen being carried out in the last week.
CARLA: Could I just re-ask the question? I mean, you said that the United States is going to give the Palestins $50 million? That's with an `M' and not a `B' here?
Mr. KUTTAB: Yes, ma'am.
CARLA: And, I mean...
Mr. KUTTAB: Yes.
CARLA: ...our foreign aid to Israel, not including military and so forth, this year, is $5 billion, with a `B.' I mean, the $50 million, we're talking about three overpasses or three interchanges, something like that on a US scale. This is not money to rebuild a totally devastated area like the Gaza Strip. I mean, everything in Gaza is pretty much rubbleized by Israeli armament.
CONAN: This is just the first tranche of payments. I think the $3 billion total is for all of the G8, the US included. Is that right?
Mr. KUTTAB: That's correct. The $3 billion is from all of the industrial countries, and not just the US. The US, I think, will not--I don't think they'll give more than hundreds of millions as a total. I don't think they'll reach a billion. But she's right that the Israelis...
Mr. KUTTAB: ...have got more than the Palestinians.
CONAN: Carla, thank you very much for the call. We'll continue taking your questions about the Palestinian Gaza after a break. This is NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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Right now we're wrapping up our conversation on Palestinian view of the future in Gaza now that the Jewish settlers have left. Our guest is Daoud Kuttab, a columnist for the Jordan Times, and for the Jerusalem Post. If you would like to join us, (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
And Daoud Kuttab, let me ask you, who politically is going to get credit for the Israeli withdrawal?
Mr. KUTTAB: Well, Ariel Sharon, of course, wants to take credit. Palestinians are divided on this issue. The Islamic groups feel that this is a result of their attacks, especially the last surge in the last few years of the rockets, the Qassam rockets. I would say the more accepted view is that this is a kind of a combination of the struggle of Palestinians since '67, the steadfastness of people, the fact that thousands are willing to take sacrifices for long time, and the change in the international atmosphere after September 11th. There is a lot of issues and reasons that this has happened but I don't think one can point to one single issue as the reason for it.
CONAN: How much of a challenge is this to the Palestinian Authority and the old guard represented by Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas?
Mr. KUTTAB: Well, the key, as I think Saed Erekat said, is in the results, is if people see their life being changed to the better, if they can go out and go to Cairo and have their relatives who are in Jordan come and see them, there are people in the West Bank that haven't seen their relatives in Gaza and vice versa. The--you know, the quality of life for Gazans has been so miserable that if they see real positive change in their lives, if there's jobs being created, and if the economic lifestyle is improving, I think this will all help Mr. Abbas, especially as we have a January elections coming up for the legislative council. If things don't get better and if the worse scenarios of Gaza becoming a big prison happen and the Islamic groups start creating trouble again in the sense of attacking Israelis and Israelis, you know, going back into Gaza, then that could play into the Islamic hands. So it's really fluid, but I would say the people are hopeful things that will improve now.
CONAN: Do you expect that groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad are going to abide by what Saed Erekat was talking, one gun, in other words, only the government, the Palestinian Authority, has--should have a monopoly on the use of force?
Mr. KUTTAB: The issue here is mixed. The Islamic groups say we agree that there should be one gun for internal security but that we need to have our guns for self-defense, that if the Israelis decide to come back in, we need to protect ourselves, or if the Israelis break up and try to really put us in the prison, we're going to attack them. For the time being, I think the Palestinian Authority is willing to tolerate that so long as the guns are not used for any internal problems and if they would not--if they put them away for internal issues and just use them, as they are saying, for self defense, but if they don't accept that, there will be some really--breakdown of the relationship that exists now.
I think the key is not this. The key is a political issue. And now we have the Islamic groups, Hamas, especially, interested in the political cake, and they're interested in the next elections. They've already said they want to participate. And I think this carrot, if you will, this is the best chance for them to keep their guns, you know, aside, because they want to participate in the politics, they want to run for elections, and if things are going in the direction they are going now, I think it's very unlikely that they would put this possibility of gaining very good seat in the next elections to a test by, you know, somebody, you know, shooting randomly here and there.
CONAN: Let's get one more caller in before we have to go. Kevin. Kevin joins us from Columbus, Ohio. Hello, Kevin? Kevin, are you there? Last call. OK, thanks very much.
Kevin apparently left us. We do know the substance of his question, though, and that is--we were talking about redevelopment funds from the G8, about $3 billion. To what extent are Arab countries pledging money for reconstruction?
Mr. KUTTAB: I think Arab countries are going to put a lot of money in. Until now, as Saeb has said, there has been a lot of confusion as to how far the Israeli withdrawal is going to be. Is it going to be genuine, complete and transparent? Are the Israelis going to be in control? If they are, I don't think you'll see Arab money. But if Gaza is truly sovereign and the air, the space, the borders, the airport, the seaport, are in Palestinian hands, there will be Arab support, Arab visitors, Arab tourism, Arab investment. That's--I think that's the key to their willingness to participate in any investment.
CONAN: Daoud Kuttab, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. KUTTAB: You're welcome.
CONAN: Daoud Kuttab, a columnist for the Jordan Times and the Jerusalem Post. He joined us from the BBC Studios in Ramallah on the West Bank.
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