After six years of closures on the Gaza Strip, the US this week helped broker an
understanding by which Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians may finally tackle the
issue of the crossings.
The matter evokes much anti-Israel
But for Palestinian in the Strip, the key crossing is Rafah, on
the border with Egypt.
Egypt closed Rafah in 2006, although there has
been intermittent pedestrian traffic since.
Rafah was fully open to
pedestrians only in 2010. Cairo has consistently refused Palestinian
demands to expand use of the crossing to allow for the flow of goods, fearing
that creating a permanent trade passage wound be the first step toward placing
the Gaza Strip fully under its auspices.
The Palestinian Authority, which
publicly calls for Rafah to be re-opened, notes that the devil is in the
details. In private discussions it has expressed concern that improperly opening
Rafah to goods could further split Gaza from the West Bank and make it difficult
to reunite the two areas into one state. To keep the integrity of its future
state intact, the PA wants the Rafah crossing to be under its auspices and
within the same customs envelope as the West Bank rather than under
Israeli security officials say the Egyptian have finally dropped
their objections. They believe that if the Gaza- Israel cease-fire holds,
Cairo may allow goods to enter the Strip through Rafah, in additional to through
The officials added that a monitoring system would need to be set
up to ensure that weapons were not smuggled into Gaza.
The absence of a
channel for goods between Gaza and Egypt, combined with Israeli restrictions on
its border crossings with the Strip, has led to the creation of a tunnel system
through which goods are smuggled in from Sinai.
It is through these
tunnels that rockets, including from Iran, and the infrastructure to launch
According to Gisha — Legal Center for Freedom of Movement,
more than 47 percent of Gaza’s civilian imports come through these
This translates, Gisha said, to 4,100 truckloads per month,
compared with 4,700 truckloads that heads into Gaza from Israel.
Gaza’s fuel is also piped in through the tunnels, Gisha said.
organization has argued that any new arrangement on the Rafah crossing should
keep Gaza’s trade focused on the West Bank and Israel and within the Israeli
In the past, when the Gaza passages into Israel were
fully open, it said, 85 percent of the Strip’s trade was with the West Bank and
According to Gisha, Israel is a more attractive market for Gaza
than Egypt, Prices are lower in Egypt, and it would be difficult for Gazan
products to be competitive in the giant neighbor to the west.
times from Gaza through Egypt are also longer, and thus it would be more
expensive to move the goods, the Tel Aviv-based NGO said.
Gisha called on
Israel to take this opportunity to lift its ban on the passage of goods and
people from Gaza to the West Bank and to allow construction material for the
private sector into Gaza. At present, Israel limits the flow of construction
materials into the Strip, to prevent them being used for military
Each month, according to Gisha, 3,600 truckloads of
construction material enter Gaza through the smuggling tunnels, compared to
1,100 that comes in through Israel.
When Israel withdrew from the Gaza
Strip, the US brokered the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access under which
goods and people were to travel from Gaza into Israel and Egypt, under the
watchful eye of Israeli and European Union monitors.
But the agreement,
which placed all the crossings into Gaza under the control of the
Fatah-dominated PA, held in full only until Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier
Gilad Schalit in June 2006.
It broke down altogether in June 2007, when
Hamas drove Fatah out of Gaza, including its Presidential Guard that controlled
the borders and the EU monitors who observed them.
community shied away from creating any new system, because it would mean
abrogating the 2005 agreement, and because it was uncertain what was happening
The issue was made more complicated by the fact that there
are no formal relations between Israel and Hamas.
Until 2007, the PA had
served as an intermediary between those two deadly enemies.
Israel, with the help of the PA, international organizations and technocrats in
Gaza, has been in charge of two passageways from Israel into Gaza; one for goods
at the Kerem Shalom crossing to the southern Strip, and one for pedestrians
through the Erez crossing in the north.
On Thursday, a day after the
cease-fire was announced, expectations were high in Gaza that the borders would
suddenly be totally open.
In reality, however, for security reasons the
military blockade will remain in place, as will restrictions on pedestrian
movement between Gaza and the West Bank.
What could happen is that a new
formal arrangement, one that would be carefully monitored, could be put in place
to handle the passage of goods and people in and out of the Strip.
best of circumstances, these new arrangements could lift any remaining ban on
products, for example construction material, and help restore normal economic
life to Gaza.