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Both sides skeptical on Gaza pullout



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Benjamin Netanyahu
Ariel Sharon

(CNN) -- Former Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday bemoaned the impending removal of settlers from Gaza as "good intentions badly played out," while a senior Palestinian legislator expressed skepticism mixed with hopefulness.

Netanyahu dismissed the Palestinian Authority as "an authority by name alone," and railed against it as "really a collection of terrorists, gangsters, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others who are operating freely, with weapons."

The Palestinian Authority, he told CNN, has no plans to disarm "these gangs" and predicted that Gaza will become "an inviolable domain."

Israeli security chiefs have told him, he said, that "this is going to become a base of terror. It will attract Hezbollah, al Qaeda, terrorists from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Netanyahu, a former prime minister, said the transformation may not be immediate, "but, unfortunately, it will happen."

He added, "Israel's campaign against terror is being set back because of good intentions badly played out."

Netanyahu resigned from the Cabinet early this month, minutes before it approved the plan to withdraw all troops and settlements from Gaza. (Full story)

Although he is a member of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ruling Likud Party, he said he could not be a part of the prime minister's plan.

"We can see in Gaza ... an Islamic terror base being established," he said.

The pullout will make Israel less secure, he said, adding that the idea of disengagement has been tried and failed before, "and it will fail again."

The Likud Party led by Sharon, he said, is "not the Likud the people voted for."

Netanyahu is considered Sharon's biggest political rival within the party, though he refused Tuesday to say whether he would challenge Sharon for party leadership.

The withdrawal is part of Sharon's plan to remove around 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and four small areas of the West Bank, along with the Israeli troops who guard them.

The Israeli government has said the plan, proposed in February 2004, will redraw the landscape of the Middle East, allowing for the possible relaunching of the peace process with the Palestinian Authority.

In an address to the nation Monday night, Sharon said the disengagement is being carried out with "great anguish," but is necessary and good for Israel. (Full story)

"I understand the feelings, the pain and the cries of those who object," Sharon said. "However, we are one nation even when fighting and arguing."

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, on Tuesday called Sharon's plan painful but courageous and said "the onus is now on the Palestinians" to maintain security.

"They've actually talked the talk. It is now time for them to walk the walk. They have to arrest the terrorists, confiscate the weapons, dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and seriously embark on a process series of negotiations," Gillerman said.

Palestinian Legislative Council member Hannan Ashrawi said some Palestinians see the move as an attempt by Sharon to circumvent the so-called road map to peace.

"This is Sharon's way of unilaterally imposing his view and of demanding payback in the West Bank and in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian refugee rights," she said.

"People are skeptical, but at the same time people are encouraged by the precedent -- the fact that settlements are being evacuated and the army is leaving," she said.

"We hope that there would be a viable, credible political process that will move rapidly ahead in order to ensure the end of the occupation, started in '67, and the two-state solution becoming a reality on the ground."

Palestinian militants, waving flags and carrying guns, staged celebrations Tuesday at Khan Yunis near the Neveh Dekalim settlement in Gaza.

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