The Palestinian Authority took control of the border crossing at Rafah between the Gaza Strip and Egypt last week. This follows a reconciliation agreement last month between Hamas and the Authority on the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government. The crossing which has been closed most of the time since 2007 is expected to return to full operations by mid-November but forces belonging to the Authority have still to be deployed there. The Palestinian Authority will also be responsible for the collection of customs duties.
Paradoxically, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has not yet lifted the sanctions against the Gaza Strip which he imposed some months ago, including funding for electricity, which has limited power to 4 – 6 hours per 24 hours.
The European External Action Service (EEAS) issued (1 November) a statement where it greeted the handover as an important step towards allowing the Palestinian Authority resuming its full responsibilities in Gaza and achieving intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
It also declared its readiness to deploy its border assistance mission in Rafah (EUBAM) which was withdrawn in 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. The mission has been on stand-by since then. It is not sure that Egypt which facilitated the opening of the crossing will agree to this.
Previous agreements between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have failed and it remains to be seen if this will hold. If it does, it could mean a well-needed economic boost to the Gaza Strip and end its isolation.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz (6 November) an Israeli military official has called for the implementation of a Gaza version of the Marshall Plan through which the international community would direct large sums of assistance to improve the economy in the Gaza Strip. A continued worsening of the situation would risk an escalation of violence, he warned.
Whether the handover of the Rafah crossing will also lead to a resuming of the peace process is more unlikely. Israel has reluctantly accepted the new Palestinian government and the arrangements at the border crossing but insists that Hamas must meet the conditions of the Quartet such as recognizing the state of Israel, abiding by previous agreements and renouncing terror.
EEAS on its part states that it will continue to liaise with the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Israel, and its international partners, including in the Quartet, in order to help the reconciliation process to succeed, “which is critical for reaching a negotiated two-state solution and sustainable peace.”
The Brussels Times