The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A painful pullout, all for peace
- The ‘earthquake’ that followed the Gaza evacuation shakes up Israel politics

Nabih Mari’e (opposite Gaza Strip), Dec. 18: Thirty-eight years after he began a new life, Dror is back to a refugee camp. The young Israeli, whose name literally means “freedom”, is one of the 30,000 settlers on the Gaza Strip who were forced out of their homes between August and September this year following prime minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to pull out from the disputed area.

An architect by profession, he waits with his wife at the Eley-Sinai refugee camp, along with 30 other families, to begin a new life at another settlement inside Israel ' until it’s time for another exile, expulsion or a state-forced exodus.

Exile and exodus have been part of Israeli settlers’ lives ' at Gaza Strip, West Bank and scores of other disputed areas along Israel’s troubled borders with Palestine or hostile neighbours like Syria and Lebanon.

“We tried everything to stop the forced evacuation. We told the government we could live with the Palestinians,” Dror says. Yes, it was often dangerous to live in Gaza Strip. “But no place in Israel is safe,” he adds.

It isn’t safe even at Asquelon, the big town close to Gaza Strip. Qassam rockets and other missiles fired from inside the Gaza Strip make life uncertain for people living even further inside these southern Israeli areas.

Last week, Sederot, another town close to the Gaza Strip, was attacked by rockets fired from the Palestinian side, while four members of a militant Palestinian group were killed in an aerial strike by the Israeli air force.

The strikes and the threats haven’t gone away because of the pullout. And the people living perilously close to the conflict area know they will not go away for a long time.

No one knows this better than Colonel Yossi Turgeman of the southern command of the Israeli Defence Force. Col. Turgeman was responsible for enforcing the pullout from the Gaza Strip.

“It was a difficult emotional experience. We had to drive our brothers from their homes. We are trained as soldiers. We can fight and die in fighting but we never prepared ourselves for the kind of things that we had to do for the pullout,” he says.

He cannot relax the vigil on the Gaza Strip from his observation post at Nabie Mari’e, a stone’s throw from the first Palestinian towns across the border. He and his men monitor the Palestinian militants’ positions and activities across the seven lines of defence laid out on the border.

But he has no doubt that the pullout from Gaza, however painful for him personally and more for the evacuated settlers, would help the peace process.

The majority of Israelis seem to think like him, if one goes by the opinion polls and popularity ratings of Sharon in the last few weeks.

But Sharon himself has unleashed something of a political tremor in the wake of the pullout, thereby forcing another election to the Israeli parliament next March.

Faced with sharp criticism of his move among his partymen, he left last month the Likud Party that he had helped found 32 years ago. Since then, the Likud has seen desertions by important leaders who are flocking to Sharon’s new Kadima Party.

Also last month, Israeli politics was shaken by another event that no one thought was possible. The elder statesman and former prime minister, Shimon Peres, suffered a shock defeat in the Labour Party’s primaries to Amir Peretz, a young and less important Labour leader.

In political and other circles, the two events within the two main parties have since been described as an “earthquake”. “We never had anything like this political upheaval in 30 years,” a leading political analyst says.

Adding to the air of uncertainty and confusion is the trouble in the Palestine Authority, whose national assembly, too, goes to the polls next month. The ruling Fata’h Party has been witnessing minor splits and revolts against the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

There is something of a shake-up in Palestinian politics, too. The militant group, Hamas, has announced it would contest the polls to the Palestine Authority’s national assembly for the first time.

What if the Hamas wins a substantial number of seats and wins a position to dictate terms to Abbas' What would a stronger Hamas in the authority mean for the peace process' Israelis are unsure of what lies ahead, much like Dror before he starts another life in another settlement.

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