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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Who will control the Gaza - Egypt border?

There's a new bone of contention between Fatah and Hamas as Fatah is now vying for control of the access points in what will eventually be the reconstituted apartheid wall running down the middle of the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. To recapitulate the history of control of that border for the past two years, originally Israel insisted on controlling Rafah, and the entire Philadelphi corridor (that dirt path at left in the top picture) in which it sits, as a means of controlling weapons smuggling into Gaza. The 'Palestinians' would not accept Israeli control and as a result, in November 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice negotiated rammed an agreement down Israel's throat, pursuant to which the Egyptians would control the border crossing and the corridor, with European monitors observing from the Egyptian side of the border. That deal was a disaster for Israel from the get-go:
In March 2006, I blogged a WorldNetDaily article:
A senior Israel security official involved in the investigation of possible al-Qaida operatives in Gaza told WND last week he fears the global group can still make its way from Sinai into the Gaza Strip due to major security lapses at the Rafah crossing following a deal brokered in November by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

A recent WorldNetDaily probe found Rice's international border agreement, which called for European monitors at the Rafah crossing, is allowing terrorists to infiltrate the Gaza Strip, where they are poised to attack Israel. WND also found the deal allows Gaza-based terrorists freedom to travel into Sinai, where they can meet with regional jihadists.

Rice's agreement, which Israel accepted reportedly after intense American pressure, restricted the Jewish state to monitor the area by camera, called for a European presence at the border station and offered the Palestinians some veto power on vehicles and persons entering Gaza.

New border rules stipulate Israel cannot restrict who leaves Gaza, but it can ask the European monitors to delay for several hours anyone crossing the border if Israel provides information indicating an entrant may be a security threat.

Israeli security officials told WND the cameras at the border are not sufficient to identify entrants, and they said the Palestinians have been failing to supply accurate and timely lists of individuals crossing into Gaza. They charged the Palestinians have tampered with the names of entrants, accusing Palestinian border workers of deliberately disguising the personal information of terrorists crossing the border.

"The result," one security officials said, "is that the border between Gaza and Egypt is nonexistent."
The European monitors fled after Hamas took control of Gaza last summer, and Egypt sealed the border, except for the weapons smuggling tunnels, through which it helped Hamas smuggle weapons, ammunition and cash into Gaza. From time to time, Israel has threatened to retake control of the border, but it has never done so. Last week, Hamas broke through the wall, possibly with the complicity of the Egyptians. Whether the Egyptians were complicit in last month's break or whether they simply blundered in ignoring Hamas' preparations to break down the wall, they apparently want to seal the border and have someone on the 'Palestinian' side enforce some sort of reasonable border regimen with them. Fatah would like to be that party, but the Egyptians are talking to Hamas. Fatah is not pleased.
The Palestinian Authority has warned the Egyptians against striking a deal with Hamas over controlling the Rafah border crossing separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt, a senior PA official in Ramallah said Monday.


PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is scheduled to visit Cairo Wednesday, will reiterate his opposition to giving Hamas any role at the Rafah terminal, the official said.

"Our position is very clear with regards to the border," the official added. "Hamas must not have any representation at the border. There is only one Palestinian Authority that is headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas can't be a legitimate party to any deal because it seized power [in the Gaza Strip] through a violent coup."


PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said Monday that there was an "international and Arab consensus" that the PA should be in control of the border. He also warned Hamas against intervening in this issue, adding that the PA was the only party authorized to run the Rafah border crossing.
Captain Ed pointed out yesterday that giving Fatah control of the border is absurd from the Israelis' perspective:

This had to be a red-letter day for Egypt and its security forces. Hamas gunmen fire in the air, and all Egypt can do is hit reverse? I know Americans complain about the poor border control along the Rio Grande, but this is ridiculous.

A gang of terrorists faced down Egypt, and now they want a more moderate terrorist to do in Rafah what he couldn't do in the rest of Gaza. Abbas lost control of the territory last year when Hamas conducted an armed revolt against the Palestinian Authority. It only took Hamas five days to seize Gaza from a clearly unprepared Abbas. What makes the US, Egypt, and the Arab world think that Abbas can hold Rafah with poor lines of communication, no strategic position, against an enemy that just chased Egypt off of the border crossing?

Israel has essentially shrugged at the suggestion. Supposedly the West and Egypt will backstop Abbas, but if they couldn't backstop Egypt, Abbas won't fare much better. Either way, it's moot for Israel, which has to see this as a disaster through which everyone must pass before anyone gets serious about dealing with Hamas. Let Abbas give it a try -- and when that fails spectacularly, maybe the Hamas problem will get real attention.

But Hamas has a lot of support in the Arab world for gaining control over the border. And the Egyptians are playing both sides of the issue:
Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is reported to have won the backing of Saudi Arabia for including Hamas in any deal on the border, sources close to Hamas said. Mashaal arrived in Riyadh Sunday, where he met with a number of senior government officials on the latest crisis.


Earlier this week, Fayad visited Cairo where he received assurances from the Egyptians that Hamas would not be given any role at the border. However, the PA is worried that the Egyptians would eventually succumb to pressure from Hamas and its supporters in Egypt and the Arab world to allow the Islamist movement to assume control over the border.

A number of Hamas leaders are expected to arrive in Cairo later this week in a bid to persuade the Egyptians not to strike a separate deal with Abbas and his loyalists regarding the border crossing. On Monday Hamas reiterated its opposition to Abbas's demand to redeploy members of his Presidential Guard force at the border with Egypt. Abbas's men lost control over the terminal when Hamas defeated the PA security forces in the Gaza Strip last June.

Egypt said Monday it was working toward reviving a 2005 agreement that regulated the administration of the border crossings in the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Cairo was working to control its border with the Gaza Strip gradually and restore the situation there to an acceptable condition.

"Egypt is holding contacts with all parties concerned to activate a 2005 agreement that regulates the administration of the border crossings, including the Rafah checkpoint," Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement.

He said Aboul Gheit had contacted a number of European foreign ministers, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, European Union (EU) External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana regarding the handling of the crossing point.

The US-brokered agreement gave Abbas and his Fatah party control over the Rafah border crossing. But it also saw EU monitors stationed there.

Aboul Gheit called on Israel to cooperate in running the border crossings and to facilitate the deployment of Abbas's loyalists there.

However, Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said his movement remained strongly opposed to the agreement. He also voiced strong opposition to the return of the EU monitors or any other third party to the Rafah border crossing.

The spokesman accused Abbas of seeking to serve Israel's interests by agreeing to the deployment of EU monitors at the border crossing. "The border should be controlled only by Palestinians and Egyptians," he said. "We won't accept the presence of a third party there."
Other than trying to blame Israel for the situation in Gaza, it's not clear to me what the Egyptians and the other Arab parties are trying to accomplish here by even pretending to back Hamas. Are they trying to give Hamas bargaining chips for an eventual reconciliation with Fatah? Are they trying to bring about the creation of two 'Palestinian' states reichlets? Are they trying to keep Fatah and Hamas at each other's throats so that it can be blamed on Israel and the 'Arab street' will remain quiet? It's hard to say right now.

What is clear is that going back to the 2005 arrangement ought to be no more acceptable to Israel than having Egypt and the 'Palestinians' running the border. Israel needs to have a real presence in the Philadelphi corridor - not just cameras - with which it can monitor and intercept terrorists' shipments of weapons, ammunition and cash. It's too bad that Israel's 'leaders' are so preoccupied with saving their own corrupt rear ends that they remain silent in this matter, which is critical to the Negev's security. Yet another reason why the Olmert-Barak-Livni junta must go.


At 1:40 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Carl, I would interpret this as pandering to Iran. Egypt and the rest of the Arab countries foresee a democratic president by 2009 and a renewed splendid isolation of the US. And they will be left together with Iran.

At 1:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not see the problem as who will control Gaza. The problem is who controls Israel.

As long as Israel is not willing to properly defend itself and take the necessary brutal measures required to repel any hostilities, we will continue to give the enemy the upper hand on a silver platter.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Pssst...James Jones w/the training/equipping help of Keith Dayton. Jones met w/the Palis after his Annapolis appointment and look what's happening already, and w.o. a peep from the trio: creation of circumstances that'd be pretext for imposition first of foreign forces, then of a territorial settlement. Buh-bye, Israeli sovereignty. (And don't be surprised if Jones ends up Sec of State, esp if McCain wins.)

At 4:33 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Arik Sharon took the Condi Rice arrangement as the price for staying out of jail. It backfired spectacularly on Israel and now there's no chance a weak and ineffectual Israeli government will be able to retake control of Rafah in the near future.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Yaakov Kirschen said...

Amazing how the main stream media is ignoring this major turning point in mid east history. Thanx for an intelligent, thorough posting.

Dry Bones
Israel's Political Comic Strip Since 1973


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