The Palestinian Authority has unveiled a security plan for maintaining order during Israel's upcoming withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, but Israel is suspicious of a Palestinian request for weapons and ammunition.
The Palestinian Authority says its security forces will ensure a peaceful Israeli pullout from Gaza, which is due to begin mid-August. The security plan includes preventing militants from firing on Israeli soldiers and settlers, and sending Palestinian police into abandoned Jewish settlements to prevent looting.
"We are exerting every possible effort in order to ensure that the 'disengagement' from Gaza and the West Bank, northern part of the West Bank, will be smooth and peaceful and void [free] of violence," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told VOA.
Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, 21 Gaza settlements will be dismantled along with four more in the northern West Bank. More than 9,000 Jewish settlers will be removed from their homes.
While the Palestinians are promising to maintain calm, they are also warning that they lack the resources to deliver. The security forces were decimated during more than four years of conflict, so the Palestinian Authority is asking Israel to supply thousands of assault rifles and ammunition.
Israel is considering the request, but it's reluctant, so far at least, to grant it. Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim says that when Israel armed the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, the weapons wound up in the hands of terrorists. "Israel should, according to its bitter experience, move step by step," he said. In other words, move slowly.
Israel faces a dilemma: It wants to enable the moderates in the Palestinian Authority to rein in Islamic militants, but the collapse of the Oslo process has eroded trust. Israel fears the Palestinians want to re-arm for the next round of conflict.