JERUSALEM – Israel's (search) withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (search) presents a historic opportunity for the Palestinians and could form the cornerstone of a future state, a senior Palestinian official said Tuesday.
"This is a momentous and very important point in history for us, but now we want to start building," said Rafiq Husseini, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' (search) chief of staff.
Israeli forces were evacuating two West Bank (search) settlements Tuesday after completing the evacuation of all 21 Gaza settlements.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Husseini said it was crucial that the Palestinians create a viable government in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal is complete.
"We see that we have to perform well in Gaza and ensure that we put the first construction stones for the Palestinian state," he said.
Gaza has been beset by lawlessness in recent months as rival groups jockey for power there.
The withdrawal presented the Palestinians the opportunity to focus on nation building, Husseini said.
"We'll create institutions, we'll create accountability and transparency in dealing with the land that's going to be evacuated by the settlers," Husseini said.
"But mostly what we have to do is create jobs for people and this is what the government is bent on doing, giving people hope for the future and giving them some economic prosperity for the future," he said.
Husseini also said that once they evacuations were complete, the Palestinians would push for a return to negotiations with Israel.
Both sides have committed to the internationally backed "road map" peace plan that envisions a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But implementation has been long dormant with both sides failing to carry out their obligations.