JERUSALEM -- Israel ruled out giving the Palestinians their own gate to the world, insisting yesterday it will control traffic in and out of Gaza after Israeli settlers and soldiers leave. Palestinians said Israel is unwilling to loosen its grip on the coastal strip.
Just a week before the pullout begins, Israel's Security Cabinet met to consider how to deal with the crossing point at Rafah between Gaza and Egypt. Rather than endorse a plan for international inspectors to handle customs and security, the Israelis insisted on moving the crossing to the point where Gaza, Egypt, and Israel meet -- and on retaining Israeli control.
No final decision was made, however, indicating key issues will be left unresolved when the pullout begins. The two sides also are discussing removal of rubble, the fate of greenhouses, and other matters. The Rafah crossing to Egypt is Gaza's only link to the outside world, as the seaside territory is bounded on the other two sides by Israel. The border crossing issue is also considered vital by Israelis, who worry about weapons smuggling into Gaza and the flow of cheap goods into Israel.
Israel has controlled the Rafah crossing since it captured Gaza in the 1967 war. Israel maintains the pullout will end its occupation, but Palestinians and international agencies say if Israel continues to control Gaza's borders, airspace, and seacoast, it will still be considered an occupier.
Speaking in the closed Security Cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz made clear Israel is not prepared to trust the Palestinians to handle security and commerce by themselves.
Defense Ministry officials quoted Mofaz as saying that Gaza must be demilitarized, and Israel must oversee the seacoast. Also, he said, Israel must control the flow of products into the Palestinian territories. He said that until the Palestinians prove they can handle Gaza, Israel must protect itself. Therefore, Mofaz recommended moving the Rafah crossing about 2 miles to Kerem Shalom, an Israeli community at the site where the borders of Egypt, Israel, and Gaza converge.
''Israel claims it wants to get out of Gaza, but in reality it wants to continue to control Gaza," said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian spokeswoman. ''What Israel really seeks to do is to control Gaza both militarily and economically by moving the Rafah crossing."
The pullout will remove about 9,000 Jewish settlers from 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank. Yesterday, the military sent formal letters to the Gaza settlers informing them that as of next Monday, their presence in Gaza will be illegal. Forcible removal of settlers is to begin Aug. 17.