Israel Egypt border 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The European Union is willing to take up "peacekeeping tasks" on the Philadelphi Corridor, the EU's ambassador to Israel told The Jerusalem Post Thursday, a day after the cabinet was told that arms smuggling across the Gaza-Egyptian border has gotten completely out of hand.
Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal said that if the international force in Lebanon is successful, "it could represent another good example to take into account for other places where peacekeeping forces could be needed."
One such place, he said, could be the Philadelphi Corridor, separating Gaza from Egypt. He stressed, however, that this could only be done within the framework of an agreement between the parties.
Cibrian-Uzal also revealed that a high-level meeting took place last week between senior Israeli, Palestinian, European, and US officials to discuss opening the Rafah border crossing. Under an agreement hammered out last year by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israel relinquished control of the crossing to the Palestinians, and a team of EU officials was sent there to monitor the crossing.
Since Cpl. Gilad Shalit's abduction on June 25, the crossing has been closed for all but about 10 days. At the meeting - the first working-level meeting at this level for months - the Palestinians proposed that Israel keep the Rafah crossing open two days a week. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for this month.
Saeb Erekat, who answers directly to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, represented the Palestinians. Abbas's presidential guard, and not a Hamas-affiliated security branch, is responsible for security at the Rafah crossing, which is why - since Israel, the EU and US do not meet with Hamas representatives - the four-way meeting was able to take place.
Regarding the idea that the EU take up a peacekeeping role on the Philadelphi Corridor, Cibrian-Uzal stressed that the Europeans have not made a formal decision on this matter. But, he said, his impression was that the EU would be open to the idea if asked by the three parties involved: Egypt, Israel and the PA.
Israeli officials had no official response, and said that the idea would be examined if and when a concrete proposal was presented, something that has not been done.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet Wednesday that weaponry was being smuggled into Gaza that could alter the strategic balance there, and that he intended to raise the issue with Rice, who was scheduled to arrive in Israel on Wednesday for a 24-hour visit, part of a five-day Middle East tour. Rice is also scheduled to go to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where she is expected to hold a mini-summit with leaders from Jordan, Egypt and the Persian Gulf states.
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin told the cabinet Wednesday that since last August some 20 tons of high-grade explosives that can significantly upgrade the range and quality of rockets in Gaza had been smuggled from Sinai into Gaza. Although he did not say that the explosives came through the Rafah crossing, he did say that money and terrorists had come through there.
Cibrian-Uzal said that if advanced weaponry has been smuggled into Gaza, it had not been through the Rafah crossing where the EU monitors were deployed.
"If the agreements in Rafah are not meeting Israeli expectations, I do not think that is because the EU is not doing its part," Cibrian-Uzal said. "The EU is fulfilling the terms of reference given in the agreements, but we cannot do what is not in the terms of reference." The EU's ambassador said that the Rafah crossing "is the most secure point" along the border between Egypt and Israel.
"We don't have a mandate to stop tunnels," Cibrian-Uzal said. "There are tunnels north and south of the Rafah border point, and that is a border that is very challenging. The responsibility for that border is with Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian authorities."
Regarding claims that terrorist were entering Gaza through the Rafah crossing point, Cibrian-Uzal said that in the 10 months that the arrangement at Rafah has been up and running, Israel has not once flagged someone going through the crossing as a terrorist who needed to be stopped. As far as the transfer of money is concerned, he admitted that cash had been smuggled in, but said that there were no PA currency regulations preventing this. He said that the EU mandate at the crossing was limited, and that the monitors had no authority to confiscate goods and cash, or to make arrests.
While he said the UNIFIL model in Lebanon could possibly be duplicated on the Philadelphi Corridor, he said it was unrealistic - as some have advocated - to think that an international force could be placed on Gaza's borders with Israel as well.
He said that Gaza's geography, and the proximity of the border to the hinterland where there is a major "rule of law and order" problem, would make such a mission prohibitive, because the border monitoring force would most likely be dragged into "law and order" issues inside Gaza.
He said that the EU has developed a capacity for peacekeeping, not peacemaking, roles.
"In Gaza the logistics of the situation would make it difficult to limit border monitoring to peacekeeping, and we would get entangled into peacemaking operations," he said, adding that "the EU is not so prepared or keen on peacemaking operations." He said that the EU could conceivably undertake a peacekeeping role in the West Bank, where the geography was more suitable, but that this could only be done within the context of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
"I am sure in the context of a peace agreement between the PA and Israel that the EU would be delighted to take on peacekeeping functions in the West Bank," he said, but right now the EU "would not be keen on an operation that could be seen as a cooperation or collaboration with the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. The EU can't do the job of the IDF in the West Bank in the absence of peace agreements between Israel and the PA."