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P.A. Set To Handle Gaza Pullout, Palestinian Security Chief Says

If Israel unilaterally withdraws from the Gaza Strip as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has suggested, no governmental vacuum would be formed, Jibril Rajoub, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s national security advisor, said Tuesday in an unusual briefing with Israeli reporters.

“We have a plan to handle the territory,” Rajoub said during the press conference, held in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “We won’t mourn the evacuation of the settlers, but we prefer that the evacuation be done through negotiations, not unilaterally.”

Rajoub said that the United States and Israel have no right to decide who will rule the Palestinian people. He told reporters that Arafat was the only Palestinian leader who could sign a peace agreement with Israel, because he is the elected leader “whether you like him or not.”

“Sharon, too, is also not exactly a B’Tselem activist,” Rajoub added, referring to the Israeli center for human rights in the territories, but went on to say that “Sharon is the only Israeli leader who could bring about peace if he really means it. We are not waiting for [Yossi] Beilin or [Yossi] Sarid to be your prime ministers,” Rajoub said, referring to the former justice minister behind the Geneva Understandings and the former leader of the left-wing Meretz Party, respectively.

Rajoub claimed that Hamas would not pose a real threat to the P.A. if Israel evacuated its Gaza settlements. “The organization has a pragmatic side to it, too,” he said. “Some of the group’s leaders agree to peace with Israel [if Israel withdraws to its] 1967 borders.” Rajoub reiterated that the P.A. was interested in a two-state solution and again called for a renewal of peace talks.

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