Avoiding an Israeli In-Your-Face

Anger and insult shouldn't influence motives or actions, and in the Mideast, they've only worked against the peace process.

So it's a relief to learn that Israel's Defense Ministry no longer plans to raze hundreds of houses in Gaza when its soldiers evacuate Jewish settlers from them this summer.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had originally recommended destroying the settlements. He wanted to avoid scenes of jubilant Palestinians moving into the red-roofed homes, adding insult to injury for the settlers, many of whom vehemently oppose leaving.

But last week, a ministry official announced the houses would remain intact, along with the settlers' agricultural infrastructure of greenhouses and irrigation systems. Jewish graveyards will be removed, however, and synagogues dismantled. Israeli military bases also will be destroyed.

Environmental and monetary cost concerns played a role in this course reversal. So, too, did world opinion. Earlier last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the Israelis not to engage in "wanton destruction" of the homes. In 1982, Israel was roundly chastised for flattening the Yamit settlement when it left the Sinai under the terms of its peace deal with Egypt.

A smooth withdrawal from Gaza - as long as it's not a quid pro quo for Israeli entrenchment in the West Bank - is in everybody's best interest. President George Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (who meets with Mr. Bush in Texas Monday), and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas must do all they can to ensure it's a success.

In a process in which small steps can mean a lot, Israel just took one that not only avoids an "in your face" gesture to the Palestinians, but can help support their devastated economy at the same time.

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