Hamas relinquished control of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt on Wednesday in a major step toward implementing last month’s reconciliation deal with Mahmoud Abbas’s PA.
“All the crossings were transferred this morning to the Palestinian National Authority without any problems,” said Muhammad Maqadma, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Ministry. The move affects the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings with Israel and the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
“This will make it easier for the citizen in many areas: movement, opening the crossings and easing exit from them,” Maqadma said. The PA has abolished the tariffs imposed by Hamas on commodities imported through the Kerem Shalom crossing, a move expected to make some goods cheaper.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah hailed the PA’s return to the crossings – after a decade in which Hamas controlled them following its 2007 armed takeover of the Strip – as a milestone toward restoring PA governance for the benefit of Gaza’s two million inhabitants. He termed it “an essential step that we will build on to enable the government and to strengthen its work in restoring the living conditions of our people.”
The handover of the crossings is seen by Palestinian analysts as giving a big push to inter-Palestinian rapprochement, with Hamas showing it is making good on its promise to hand over governance of Gaza to the PA.
“This is a big move showing that Hamas is committed to the reconciliation, to the agreement it signed with Fatah in Cairo. And from now on other conditions will have to go forward,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University.
“This is the first step, but I believe it will be followed by further steps showing Hamas’s commitment to Palestinian reconciliation.”
Former deputy head of the National Security Council Shaul Shay termed the restoration of PA control at the crossings “a positive result from Israel’s standpoint.
“It enables much greater cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and, also from Egypt’s point of view, it’s preferable that at Rafah there will be the personnel of the Palestinian Authority,” said Shay, director of research at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
“This is a win-win for everyone, including Hamas, since it enables it to improve its international and regional situation,” he added.
The coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj.-Gen.
Yoav Mordechai, will lead Israeli security officials in a meeting with representatives of the PA, in light of the handovers.
Israel will emphasize that there must be no presence of “any actor from Hamas, or anyone working for it, in the operation of the borders and next to them,” a COGAT statement said.
Hamas on Wednesday evacuated a checkpoint, known as 44, that it operated close to Erez crossing, Maqadma said.
Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman, told Al Jazeera, “We hope that handing over control will lead to a better quality of life for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”
The move raises hopes that Egypt, which has kept Rafah crossing almost completely closed in recent years, will now transform it into a major lifeline for Gaza to the outside world.
Maqadma said: “We are waiting for the Egyptian side. They are making security measures for this crossing.
It is possible that after consultations with Egypt, the crossing will be open in about two weeks.”
Cairo is working on renovating and expanding its side of the Rafah crossing.
But Hamas officials have also said that Egypt is linking the opening of the crossing to the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic State fighters are waging an insurgency against government troops.
If Egypt opens Rafah in a sustained manner, “it will have a good economic impact. More Palestinians will be able to work outside, in the Gulf, and bring money back to the Gaza Strip,” Abusada said.
“Thousands of Palestinians from outside will visit their families in Gaza, and this will have a positive impact on the economy, on tourism.
On the personal level, the Palestinians will no longer feel they are in a big cage,” he said.
Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, a Tel Aviv-based NGO, on Wednesday welcomed the expected opening of Rafah crossing but stressed that Israel, too, needs to move away from its severe restrictions on movement of people through Erez and goods through Kerem Shalom. It said these strictures stem mostly from “political motives rather than legitimate security concerns.
“Policy must be transformed to reflect the actual needs and rights of Gaza’s civilian population, in keeping with Israel’s legitimate security concerns,” Gisha said in a statement.