THE RECENT murder of an Israeli reserve soldier in a refugee camp in Gaza should rekindle the debate in Israel as to whether Israel should leave the Gaza Strip, unilaterally.
The idea of linking the Gaza Strip and West Bank as one entity which would incorporate the foundations of a Palestinian state is product of hopeful Palestinian nationalism, not due to any natural historical ties. Gazans have their roots in Egypt; the West Bankers are related to their relatives on the East Bank of the Jordan River.
Even so, why does Israel remain in Gaza? To protect the Palestinians? Does the 135-square-mile strip truly serve any strategic purpose to Israel? (For comparison, Howard County, the smallest in Maryland, is nearly twice as large.)
It's time Israel stopped playing the role of ''corner cop,'' removed its forces, and let events take their course. If the Palestine Liberation Organization or Hamas (the Islamic fundamentalists)
take over, what harm can they inflict to which the Israel Defense Forces could not retaliate? Surely vessels carrying terrorists and weapons will not have free access to the coastal waters and Israel has every means available of intercepting them.
The typical response to the notion of leaving Gaza is that there is no one to give it to because nobody wants it. The logic is flawed. The Palestinians want the West Bank, yet Israel doesn't leave. That nobody wants Gaza does not mean Israel can't unilaterally return responsibility for ruling it to Egypt.
Some fear a Gaza withdrawal will lead to a PLO mini-state, and that eventually Israel would have to reoccupy the area. But what if Egypt realized that in the vacuum after Israeli withdrawal it had no choice other than to extend its sovereignty over Gaza to keep it stable?
Upon declaring her intention to leave, Israel should demand that Egypt shoulder its historical responsibility. This would entail the next logical step in the Egypt-Israel peace treaty -- Egypt's accepting the Gaza Strip back into its fold and completing the entire cycle of events since 1967.
It shouldn't be automatically assumed that PLO terrorists would be able to infiltrate into Israel, for Egypt wouldn't want its border destabilized by PLO terror cells. Egyptian self-interest enables Israel to withdraw its troops.
Another common argument is that abandoning any part of the territories will set a dangerous precedent that might affect the future of the West Bank, which is vital to Israeli security. But Israel should leave Gaza because it is good for Israel, not as a gesture of good faith or as appeasement to the Arabs or the West. If Arabs delude themselves that they ''forced Israel to surrender Arab lands,'' that's their problem.
Gaza isn't the West Bank. Leaving Gaza and sacrificing a few settlements there is worth it if it releases Israel from the burden of controlling 650,000 Palestinians, almost half the Arabs currently under Israeli military rule. What is sometimes forgotten is that Israel must pay a price to rule over Palestinians. If a way could be found to reduce the number of Arabs under its military control without sacrificing any basic security needs, why dismiss the idea and cling to rhetoric and dogma?
Mr.Bainerman is econmomics editor of the Jerusalem Post.