Leading article: Lessons from Gaza, one year on

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The Independent Online

The first anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is approaching. But this is unlikely to be a cause for celebration among either Israelis or Palestinians. Surveying the condition of that meagre strip of territory today, it seems that little has changed in the past year. The Israeli army has returned. And the mindless tit-for-tat violence goes on. Only yesterday, three Palestinians were blown up by the Israeli army in Beit Hanoun, a response to the firing of crude rockets by Palestinian militants across the border. Gaza remains cut off from the outside world, its economy in crisis and its population in misery. Withdrawal does not appear to have benefited the people of Gaza, nor liberated Israel from its burden of occupation.

The failure of withdrawal to yield a peace dividend is something the world would do well to recognise, as another apparent opportunity for progress emerges in the form of the cease-fire in Lebanon. When Ariel Sharon dismantled Israeli settlements in Gaza and pulled back Israel's forces 12 months ago, President Mahmoud Abbas proved unable to fill the inevitable security vacuum. Predictably, it was the Gaza-based militants Hamas that were credited by many Palestinians with prompting the Israeli withdrawal.

When Hamas were victorious in Palestinian parliamentary elections this year, Israel swiftly imposed a blockade on Gaza. Hamas's militia responded by crossing the border and kidnapping an Israeli soldier. That was when the Israeli government sent the tanks back in. By refusing to work with moderate Palestinian representatives, the Israeli government merely succeeded in strengthening the hard-liners.

The same process is in danger of happening again in Lebanon. The ceasefire that came into effect early yesterday morning is not stable. The Israeli government says its troops will remain in the south of Lebanon until an international peacekeeping force arrives. The Hizbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, says his fighters will respect the ceasefire, but will resist a continued Israeli presence in Lebanon. The potential for a return to hostilities is obvious. Making matters worse is Israel's refusal to lift the air and sea blockade of Lebanon. The Israeli government seems content for the democratically-elected Lebanese government to remain on its knees, despite the fact that all sides supposedly recognise that it will be needed to help disarm Hizbollah.

The Israeli government's determination to settle its borders unilaterally and its wilful disregard for the legitimate interests of its neighbours have manifestly failed to deliver peace and stability on Israel's western border in Gaza. And such tactics look just as unlikely to do so on its northern border in Lebanon.