(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
Israeli intransigence in negotiating the Rafah border deal lost Israel the ability to blacklist Hamas operatives from entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt, according to a source from the international community familiar with the negotiations.
In recent days Israel has sharply criticized the Palestinian Authority for letting Hamas terrorists cross into Gaza and has threatened to limit Gazans' access to Israel at the Karni and Erez crossings if more enter. But, under the terms of the American-brokered agreement between Israel and the PA concerning Rafah, entrance is allowed to anyone with a Palestinian ID. Israel can only relay its concerns about individuals to the European Union monitors and the Palestinians themselves.
Israel could have been able to block these Hamas fugitives from Gaza entirely if it had started to negotiate at the time disengagement was winding down in September, the source said. While Israel "dragged its feet" for two months, international pressure mounted for a deal to defuse Gaza's growing economic crisis, which allowed the Palestinians to prevail in their objections to such a blacklist, he said.
Another international observer of the negotiations said the deal happened "too quickly," and left a "few holes," including the lack of a list of barred terrorists.
But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin rejected the criticism of Israel's stubbornness in negotiating, saying, "We were very stubborn in insisting on security measures to prevent what's happening now."
Gissin is among those threatening that restrictions could be placed on Gazans crossing into Israel, or that a customs agreement which gives Palestinians trade benefits could be scrapped.
But the source said that Israel hasn't conveyed those threats to the Europeans or Americans, leading to the assessment that the comments were made for domestic consumption. This was a dangerous game, the source added, because even empty threats can erode international investors' confidence in the Palestinian economy's ability to function.
William Taylor, the US representative to Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn's mission, confirmed that he hadn't personally heard any Israeli discussion of closing the crossings into Israel and had been made aware of the matter through the press.
Julio De Laguardia, spokesman for the EU's mission at the Rafah crossing, said the Israelis hadn't told the Europeans directly of their threats about Karni and Erez.
He said that, while Israelis have raised concerns about certain suspected terrorists entering Gaza, those suspects have been allowed to enter anyway because they don't appear on Palestinian lists of those who should be detained.
"Israel has a longer list and the Palestinians have a shorter list," he said, noting the EU is trying to help synchronize the two lists.
He added that the EU has already aided in resolving one dispute, in which Israel complained that the PA wasn't fulfilling its obligations to provide data about those crossing the border since only ID numbers - and not names, birthday and place of birth - were being provided.
"We accepted that request. We believe it was fair according to the agreement," explained De Laguardia, who said the Palestinians had agreed to provide the desired information.
He also said that the "technical" problem in the several-minute delay of the transfer of that data from Rafah to the Israelis stationed in Kerem Shalom should soon be resolved.