Useful Step: Leave Gaza

HOWEVER abhorrent the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, it is not random. Rather, it is political -- as witness a sad new phase of killings last week, when 10 Palestinians and one Israeli were shot in clashes in the Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank.

Such clashes are the result not only of new police forces finding their way, of the rise of Hamas, of the continued building of Israeli settlements, or of the economic closure of the Gaza Strip. These are important; but at the root of the clashes is a disillusionment among Israelis and Palestinians about the ''Declaration of Principles'' signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn 15 months ago.

Since that famous handshake, some 100 Israelis and 230 Palestinians have been killed. Last month, the Israeli government leaked word that it was rethinking the declaration.

Frustration and anger are deepening partly because expectations set by the declaration were so high. Palestinians expected economic assistance and much of their land and freedom back. Israelis expected that Mr. Arafat would police his people and offer security. Yet little has changed.

Of the $650 million promised by Western and Arab donors, only $200 million has been delivered. It is being used to keep Arafat's inner circle and police force going -- not for the people. Some 16 months after ''peace'' was to arrive, Palestinians have no freedom of movement, no self-rule, no West Bank or East Jerusalem, and no authority over land, security, or water. Hamas exploits this situation.

As the real power, only Israel can deliver peace. The Nobel Prize has not changed a central truth: Israel is an occupying power and Arabs in Israel and the territories do not share the rights that Jews have.

A step needs to be taken. One place Israel could begin is Gaza -- the place that Arafat is supposed to govern anyway. The inequities between Arabs and Jews in the tiny strip are absurd. Some 850,000 Palestinians live on 70 percent of the land; 600,000 are refugees, and of these, 300,000 live in camps. Unemployment is 50 percent; under rules of closure, only 12,000 Gazans may work in Israel, down from 80,000 a few years ago.

By contrast, Israelis use 30 percent of Gaza for a population of 5,000.

If Israel is serious about peace, it can give authority in Gaza to Arafat and close some settlements. The Netzarim settlement near the heart of Gaza, for example, costs Israel $15 million a year to secure but houses only 100 Israelis, of whom 60 are children. Why keep it?

Rabin can release Gaza. This may undercut extremism and keep the peace process from disintegrating.

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