Israel is removing the Gaza settlers.

Later today, Israel’s Cabinet was to vote on removing the last three Gaza enclaves along with four in the West Bank.

Israeli officials said they planned to speed up this week’s timetable. The last Gaza settlements should be empty by tomorrow, and the army plans to begin clearing two settlements in the northern West Bank on Tuesday.

While there still could be some pockets of resistance, the focus already is turning to where the Israelis and Palestinians go from here.

For Israel, there still is much to be done. The military must dismantle its outposts, demolish thousands of homes, relocate Jewish cemeteries and hand over the land to the Palestinians.

Then, it will fall to the Palestinians to use the momentum to begin sowing the seeds of an independent state.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree yesterday appropriating Jewish settlement land for public use once Israel’s evacuation of Gaza is complete, and he scheduled postponed Palestinian legislative elections for Jan. 25.

Abbas faces some serious obstacles.

Israel plans to build a new high-tech barrier around the Gaza Strip and is hesitant to allow Palestinians to reopen the airport. Without free access, many Palestinians worry that the Israeli pullout won’t end the occupation but will isolate impoverished Palestinians in the crowded coastal area.

Most men between the ages of 16 and 35 have long been barred from leaving the region, and many worry that Israel won’t ease travel restrictions.

More than anything, Palestinians are worried that the pullout will not mark the start of renewed peace talks but the end.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pushed through the pullout as a unilateral move after growing frustrated with stalled peace talks and the violent Palestinian uprising. The death of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat paved the way for a new era of potential compromise, but Abbas is off to a shaky start.

Palestinian militants are testing Abbas’ strength and determination to rein in armed groups. The militants view the pullout as a triumph not for moderation and compromise but for violent confrontation.

I don’t read much about the Palestinian/Israeli interminable conflict, so I don’t know in-depth what is happening there. However, I always hope for a sign that someone is finally acting in a way that will enable them to work out a minimally peaceful co-existence solution. The formation of a Palestinean state seems primordial to me, and, without that, there will be no real progress. How to achieve the formation of a modern Palestinian state is another matter. As many articles point out, the road is fraught with landmines. Nevertheless, a seed for hope is now planted. I hope that this step will be something other than a theatricral act, an exception to the rule regarding their current violent quagmire negotiations.

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