Egypt formally reopened the Rafah crossing today.
Journalists on the scene report that the numbers of Palestinians crossing were fewer than anticipated — apparently partly because of suspicions based on long experience that things might not work out as expected, and partly because of a shortage of money among many in Gaza.
It was one of the top stories on the international agenda today.
The Egyptian decision to reopen the Rafah Crossing appears to be unilateral – though carried out after considerable behind-the-scenes consultations.
By all indications negotiations are still continuing.
Israeli and Palestinian analysts suggest that the Egyptian move appears to be a reward to Hamas in exchange for the essential concessions and compromise that allowed agreement on reconciliation between it and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian movements who have been feuding as each controls a different part of the occupied Palestinian territory.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Washington last week with surprising equanimity that the American government was confident that Egypt could handle the security situation at Rafah…
The earlier regime at the Rafah crossing was established in the wake of Israel’s unilateral 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza.
The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which technically prevailed at the Rafah border crossing between Rafah and Egypt until today was negotiated over several months with considerable difficulty, and was only be brought to conclusion after the personal intervention of then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an all-night marathon session, on her birthday, 15 November. It was intended to govern Israel’s immediate relationship to Gaza – which Israel argued was no longer occupied.
Within ten days, the EU managed to put together and deploy the EUBAM border-monitoring mission, and a liaison Office was set up, where EU observers worked together with Israeli and Palestinian Authority personnel.
In addition, Israeli security officials monitored the situation at Rafah in real time by live transmission of video surveillance, and by on-line computer transmissions of all the ID card numbers of the people who were crossing in either direction, Berger said.
One aspect of the Agreement that was constantly violated was the provision that “the passages will operate continuously”.
But, as it happened, the Agreement on Movement and Access was barely implemented, and for a very limited time only.
If Israel told the EUBAM observers to stay home, for example, for security reasons, the Rafah crossing would have to be closed.
The EU Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Christian Berger, explained in an interview in his office in East Jerusalem yesterday that it was originally supposed to cover both people and goods: “the original Agreement of 2005 foresaw that exports could take place right away, and if I remember one truck or two trucks were actually exported in December 2005 to Cairo. If I’m not mistaken, it was children’s toys. And then, nothing much happened. Imports were a different story: imports from the beginning had to come via Kerem Shalom [the Agreement did forsee capacity-building for handling imports direct at Rafah, after a period of one year] … However, during the period of one year, it was foreseen that with the help of the European Union but also with the help of the Israeli customs officials, Palestinian officials would be trained so they could [eventually] handle the imports themselves directly from Egypt. And at the end of that one-year period, an assessment would have been done, to find out whether the capacity was there for handling the imports. There was also a reference in the agreement for cars to be checked – traffic of private cars. Both things never happened – not at all, no. So, imports didn’t happen, and the training didn’t happen, and also the training and the capacity-building for cars didn’t happen”.