Real Surprise In Gaza Yet To Come

A peace graffiti is painted inside an abandoned home in the Jewish settlement of Peat Sadeh in the southern Gaza Strip Gush Katif block of settlements, Saturday Aug. 20, 2005. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday signed a decree that would give his government control over all lands and assets left behind by Israeli troops and settlers.(AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
AP
This column was written by CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier.

Grown men cried, women wept and out of the mouths of babes came stern words for Israeli soldiers: How could a Jew do this to a Jew? How could Israelis take Israelis off Israeli land? Nearly every car in Jerusalem was draped in orange ribbons — the symbol of solidarity with the settlers.

And yet, the thousands of protesters who were supposed to block every road in Israel for days never materialized.

One settler did die — she'd set herself on fire. But no blood was spilled, and there was no major violence. The settlers, for the most part, roared like lions but left meekly like lambs.

By the second week, even Israelis were making fun of the disengagement. One popular cartoon showed a traffic cop pulling over a speeding Israeli driver. Imitating the settlers, the driver whines, "How can a Jew give another Jew a traffic ticket?"

And that may be why some news editors so quickly lost interest. One newspaper photographer was told by bosses, "Stop taking all those photos of people crying." They weren't impressed with what struck them as crocodile tears.

In a sense, they were right. This was less a news event than Kabuki theater — with everyone playing carefully choreographed roles. Great to watch for the first act, but perhaps a bit wearing by intermission. It was all so predictable.

But that doesn't mean it wasn't significant. The real surprises came before — and will follow after.

First of all, there was the stunning political event that preceded the pullout. Ariel Sharon, a right-wing Israeli prime minister — the man who helped found these very same settlements — pushed through a plan to give up the land. Sharon's political career may now be at an end, a victim of this success.

So one of the surprises in store for the future is whether the gamble pays off. By pulling soldiers and settlers out of Gaza, he's making it physically harder for the bombers to get to Israelis. Will his right-wing following see the wisdom of that and reward him? Or, will they vote him out at the next election to punish him for giving up territory?

And will the world community, or at least Washington, D.C., reward him? Will they make less noise about the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank? While some 7,000 settlers were removed from Gaza, almost 13,000 Israelis are moving to West Bank settlements over this year.

For Palestinians, the Gaza pullout is a little like a settler shell game. The settlers have disappeared from one place, only to pop up somewhere else. And Israel still controls Gaza's land and sea crossings. In the eyes of the armed Palestinians, that's plenty reason to keep fighting.

Then there's the "separation fence" the Israelis are building, which has gobbled up huge chunks of Palestinian territory in the West Bank, in the name of security — yet more provocation.

So when Ariel Sharon says to them, "Look what Israel did for peace, now it's your turn," the Palestinians are a little stumped. Essentially, they have to convince the militants to lay down their arms without being able to promise to deliver a net gain in land or independence.

Meanwhile, armed Palestinian groups believe that making the cost of staying in Gaza too high with their constant attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers is what drove the Israelis out. For them, the Gaza pullout proves that violence works.

The only real surprise in this whole, carefully choreographed disengagement will be if the Palestinian government can convince them otherwise.