Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas raised a flag and celebrated last week as the last Israeli troops left the Gaza Strip. But that celebration should be tinged with concern, because Palestinians now face a real and difficult test.
Gaza is home to the most militant Palestinian groups, Hamas in particular, and the presence of Hamas flags and hooded gunmen at the understandable celebrations on the first night of Palestinian freedoms is one sobering reminder that Abbas does not yet have his own house in order. Another is the inability of Palestinian police to stop the looting of 3,000 Gaza greenhouses purchased from settlers by American Jewish donors as an economic jump-start for Palestinians.
Should Gaza now foster more violence and unrest, hopes for quick return of West Bank lands disappear. Should Israel be forced once more into retaliation for Gaza-launched terrorism, hopes for a wider peace evaporate and relations with Gaza-bordering Egypt also could be strained.
Israel's unilateral withdrawal now becomes a trial of Abbas' leadership and the Palestinian Authority government. The calm that followed a night of wild celebration is a hopeful sign; Hamas leaders' declaration that they will follow anything that benefits Palestinians but will not disarm is a troubling one.