Palestine Cleared for Takeoff

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Pay no attention to the Israeli behind the curtain. Yasser Arafat opened the new Gaza International Airport Tuesday in a fanfare of publicity, declaring it an important milestone on the road to Palestinian statehood. "But once the emotion has died down and Palestinians realize the airport is another Israeli checkpoint, the response will be different," says TIME West Bank correspondent Jamil Hamad.

Border crossings into Palestinian territory are staffed by Palestinians, but Israelis maintain behind-the-scenes control. Arrangements at the airport will be similar, says Hamad, with unseen Israelis determining who and what may travel in and out of the Palestinian territories. Still, the airport is a tangible gain from the Wye Accord, and Arafat is using it to show the benefits of the peace process. But Israel's controlling hand may take the wind out of his sails. "If this is indeed a sign of progress toward a Palestinian state," says Hamad, "then it's a very clear indication of the type of independence that state will have."