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Opinion: No Historic Decision

Israel's parliament approved a pull-out plan from Gaza on Tuesday. Premier Sharon had to rely on opposition votes for this precedent-setting decision. But it can't be called historic, says DW's Peter Philipp.

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Will he still finish building his house?

It's a coincidence, but a symbolic one nonetheless: The Knesset vote on pulling out of Gaza took place on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The former Israeli prime minister was shot by a Jewish settler who could not bear the thought of Israel foregoing settlements in the occupied territories as part of the Oslo Agreement.

The current head of government, Ariel Sharon, stood before parliament to demand just that: A pull-out from the Gaza Strip and the dissolution of 22 settlements there, along with four more in the West Bank. A bodyguard stood next to Sharon as it had been suggested more than once that there could be a repeat of what happened to Rabin in 1995.

Superficial similarities aside, the comparison between Sharon and Rabin is incorrect and uncalled for. The big breakthrough reached under Rabin was that Israel recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), began negotiations and showed the way to a better future with two states in historic Palestine. Sharon on the other hand belonged to those who worked against it and contributed to the tension finally exploding in the first murder of an Israeli head of government.

Dropping a burden

Now that Sharon has received a majority for his pull-out plans in parliament, many are quick to celebrate this as "historic" and tell Sharon, who used to push for a "Greater Israel," that he'll enter the history books as a result.

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Ariel Sharon after the vote

But during his Knesset speech, Sharon made it completely clear that he doesn't intend to leave the occupied territories or dissolve all settlements. He wants to clear the Gaza Strip because it has become a burden for him and his country. And he wants to concentrate on the West Bank -- "Judea" and "Samaria," as the Israelis call this core of their biblical "Land of Israel."

Still, a few years ago, even Sharon would not have dreamed of pulling out of Gaza. The Knesset has set an important precedent with its decision -- 37 years after the first decision to leave at least parts of the occupied Palestinian territories in 1967.

Take what you can get

If it's at all possible to make a historical comparison, it's a decision that has to be compared to the one to leave the Sinai peninsula following the Camp David Peace Accords with Egypt. Back then, settlements were also dissolved and the premier at the time, Menachem Begin, also from Sharon's Likud party, believed he could get by with a partial withdrawal. In the end, he had to give everything back to get peace. And just like in the current situation, the nationalist head of government was able to rely on support from the leftist opposition.

Palestinians opposed to the Gaza plan should also make the comparison. Surely a proper peace treaty and a contractual agreement on the pull-out and a future coexistence would be better.

But since that seems impossible -- partially because of radicals on their own side -- the Palestinians should take what they can get. In other words, Gaza first, without giving up on the West Bank. The world will support them in this. A rejection of the plan, however, won't go down well elsewhere.

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