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The Road From Gaza

The Road From GazaTwoFletcher students – one an Israeli, the other the wife ofa Palestinian – debated the pros and cons of Israel’swithdrawal from the Gaza Strip and whether or not it will leadto peace.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.29.04] As Israel withdraws from its longtime occupation ofthe Gaza Strip and Israeli-Palestinian relations warm slightlyin the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death, hopes for a revivedpeace process are high. But two students at The Fletcher Schoolwith ties to the region share differing viewpoints on how thatprocess will evolve.

“Whileit is by no means a perfect deal, the withdrawal will help thepeace process,” Joshua Gleis, a citizen of both the UnitedStates and Israel who has studied at Tel Aviv University, saidin a dialogue published in The Boston Globe Magazine.“The Israelis are giving back this land and expecting nothing,not a stop to terrorism or anything else.”

Allison BethHodgkins, who has lived in Gaza and is married to a Palestinian,objected to Gleis’ use of the word “give.”

“Palestinianstend to cringe at that term because it implies that this belongedto Israel, whereas the world community recognizes that this island on which Palestinians live and which does not belong to Israel,”she responded.

Even then,Hodgkins contended, the deal is not completely fair.

“ThePalestinians are being given about 365 square kilometers thatis basically a sand bar,” she said. “Palestiniansbelieve this is a ploy to allow [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharonto hold the West Bank. And it will create a situation that isso unstable that when Gaza implodes, Israel will reoccupy Gazaand build an even higher fence.”

Gleis believesthat the withdrawal from Gaza is the first step toward bridgingthe divide between Israel and the Palestinians and reopening long-termnegotiations.

“Theredoes need to be a negotiated settlement, but if Ariel Sharon,who is the architect of the settlement movement, is able to makethis first step, that's possible. It would be a tragic mistaketo turn this down,” he said.

Hodgkins,however, says that the move could only further foment conflict.

“Overthe last few years, the legitimacy and popularity of the secularPalestinian national movement represented by Fatah and Arafathas declined while the radical Islamist faction - Hamas and IslamicJihad - has gained popularity, which is alarming,” she said.“Israel's withdrawal could lead to the creation of a Hamasmini-state in Gaza.”

Gleis refutedthat assertion, criticizing what he characterized as Palestinianresistance to past proposals.

“Overthe years, what Palestinians have been offered at various timeshas always been significantly less than the last offer,”he said in the Globe’s story. “They keeprejecting and get less and less and keep fighting for more andmore.”

Hodgkins –a Ph.D. candidate focused on negotiation and conflict resolution– dismissed Israel’s offer as a strategy to limitfurther concessions to the Palestinians.

“Thisis a cynical ploy and part of a larger strategy to eventuallydiminish what the Palestinians will be offered, if they are everallowed to have a state at all,” she said.

While Gleisultimately believes the withdrawal will serve as “an olivebranch to new Palestinian leadership,” Hodgkins expresseddisbelief that it would lead to anything constructive in the longterm.

“Itwould be a first step if it were part of a process,” Hodgkinssaid. “A first step that has a second step 30 years in thefuture is very different than saying we need to sit at the tablenow.”







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