The Rafah border crossing sits on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. It was closed during a 2005 agreement between Israel, Mubarak’s Egypt, the United States and the EU. While it has been opened periodically for a few days at a time, typically goods and weapons are smuggled into Gaza via a vast network of underground tunnels in the Egyptian countryside. For many, making tunnels and smuggling goods is dangerous work, with Israeli air strikes falling at any time and arrest and imprisonment a certainty if one gets caught.
But now Egypt has undergone a transition away from Hosni Mubarak, who was often criticized by the Arab world for his complicity in the ghettoizing of the Palestinian people, and who was hailed by the West for his ability to come to peaceful resolutions with the Israeli government. It seems a new age for Israeli-Egyptian relations is forming.
General Sami Anan of the Egyptian army has already warned Israel not to try to interfere with the opening of the border. This area will be out of Israel’s supervision and control, and naturally many within the country are worried about explosives and army equipment being smuggled in and used against their citizens. However one could argue, and many do, that Egypt is its own country and their opening a border is fully within their rights. That perhaps Israel’s constant attempts to control the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip has created such an atmosphere of discontent and literal starvation in Palestine, both educational and nutritional, that such rage was bound to ferment. Perhaps opening the sale of goods, many which have no reason to be on the banned list and yet still are, will create a happier, healthier populace in the Gaza Strip. That the ability to get general medication and household products will bring about changes that are positive and helpful. However, it is impossible to say at this point whether it will be column A, B, or a little bit from both (however my money is on a little bit from both).
Regardless, this opening, set to take place in a few days, has many in the region discussing what Israel’s next move may be. If they are absolutely determined to hold onto their control of Gaza, they may set Israeli troops up in the area to put check points on whatever comes in and out of the territory. They might also escalate rhetoric with Egypt causing a whole new issue for the area.
In connected news, Egypt is sending a delegation into the Palestinian territories to help broker a deal between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah and Hamas each control separate areas of the Palestinian Territories and have often fought bloody battles. They have agreed to come together to help set up a new government. It would be more of an umbrella group that could encompass both rival factions in hopes of getting free and fair elections off the ground within a year.
The Egyptian teams heading into the territories are also looking to meld the security teams rather than have them separated by Fatah or Hamas loyalties, which have led to severe internal issues in the past. The security group would be overseen by the legislature and would be a serious start to mending the broken elements of Palestinian society. One could argue that Egypt is looking for a certain level of control in the area. This may very well be the case, but it’s not particularly new to have Egyptian intelligence on Palestinian land. In 2007, there was a similar mission that headed into Gaza, although the results weren’t particularly notable.
The region’s current violence is also helping in the oddest of ways. With Syria, the main benefactor of Hamas, currently spinning out of control and Egypt, the former ally of Fatah, having undergone serious change, Palestinian groups seem to have little choice but to forge together. The impact that the border crossing will have, be it mostly positive or fairly negative, has yet to be seen. However, with all of these issues coming together at once, plus the U.N. vote for Palestinian statehood set for September, it seems that a monumental shift has been put in motion, with little chance of things going back to how they once were.