IN OTHER WORDS: A statesman

This page has never shied away from criticising Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But this week the last Jewish settlers left Gaza, completing Israel’s withdrawal from the desert it took control of 38 years ago. Israeli soldiers yesterday completed the evacuation of four much smaller settlements among the hundreds on the West Bank.

The history of the Jewish people made the relative ease of the Gaza evacuation all the more remarkable. Sharon can take pride in his actions. He was resolute in the face of condemnation from extreme right-wing members of his Likud Party. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, knows that the pullout now puts the burden on the Palestinians to show that they can govern themselves.

On Monday, Abbas called Sharon to praise him for a “brave and historic decision.” He suggested that Israel and the Palestinian Authority renew negotiations. That is a good start. But both men have big battles looming. Sharon will face another election soon, with Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, as his likely challenger. Abbas’s party, Fatah, will be battling Hamas in the coming municipal and legislative elections. Peace talks are unlikely before the elections are settled, but such talks are needed to build on the Gaza withdrawal. This flicker of sunshine deserves to be nurtured.