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With the Israeli blockade of Gaza, we are having very nearly the same old I/P debate over yet again... but this diary will attempt to discuss something new.  At least one recent and important development, the destruction of the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, now appears to have been carefully planned by Hamas.  This event may turn out to serve the greater good of the entire region.

Let's propose as a hypothetical, without prejudice towards any, that Gaza is indeed, a "concentration camp."  Two days ago, one of its walls, a wall maintained by Egypt, was spectacularly breached.  Considering the growing crisis within those walls, the "breakout" by thousands of Palestinians seemed unavoidable, even necessary.  

Some Israeli government officials appear to be quite pleased with the results of this breach, and are now floating the idea of handing over permanent "border duty," provisioning, power and water supply to Egypt - essentially putting all responsibility for the Gazans in Egyptian hands.  The Egyptians definitely don't like the idea, but how can this not be an improvement over the horrible relationship between Gaza and Israel?

It was idiotic of the Israelis to seal up the border between Gaza and Egypt from day one.  They were driven by hawkish security concerns, but time has proven the border to be porous, with an unstoppable flow of small arms, explosives and militants making their way into Gaza.  After years of nonstop sniper fire and missile attacks Israeli leadership has learned a hard lesson.

"A senior Israeli official, refusing to give his name because the minister who heads his department is away, said the development might solve a problem," is quoted in today's NYT:

“This may be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “On the level of smuggling, weapons and so on, it makes no difference. But if it continues like this, it will ease tremendously the pressure on Israel on the humanitarian level. The humanitarian organizations will get off our backs. There won’t be any shortages. So that is a good thing. We don’t care if people buy food in Egypt. And terrorists come in anyway.

Which brings us to the larger Israeli position.  Whomever one thinks is chicken or egg in the cycle of missile and mortar bombardments vs. sanctions, the Israeli government if it cares to satisfy its public, has been left with only bad options, up until now.

The NYT continues:

“Second — there’s a notion that Barak believes in — and I think Sharon did too — of getting out of Gaza, and throwing away the keys,” he said, referring to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Another Israeli official said of the border: “Instead of being unofficially open, it will now be officially open. We are starting to talk about it. Some people in the Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and prime minister’s office are very happy with this. They are saying, ‘At last, the disengagement is beginning to work.’ ”

If this is the fulfillment of Israel's goals, it is amazingly also the fulfillment of the long planned for goals of Hamas.  Sofia (thank you), in a comment to another diary, raises this very issue.  From  Mahmoud Zahhar, a co-founder of Hamas, in the May/June 2006 edition of the Boston Review, Hamas’s Next Steps:

If we push ahead with regard to opening our border with Egypt, we can certainly make it work to the benefit of both sides.  You know, in September, right after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza,when our border with Egypt was unsecured-- we learned that our people spent $8 million in El-Arish in just ten days, because the prices of everything in Egypt are so much lower than the prices the Israelis impose on us here.

For the moment we may only speculate if these unfolding events are the result of deliberate actions. However, Hamas' involvement in the destruction of the Rafah security fence, as reported in Haaretz offer us compelling evidence, if there was any doubt of Hamas' involvement in toppling the wall between Gaza and Egypt, it is only in the minds of their most steadfast apologists:

Hamas operatives had been sawing away the foundations of the wall between Egyptian and Palestinian Rafah for a few months to make it easier to blow it up when the time came, a source close to the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Rafah told Haaretz Wednesday.

A central Hamas operative partially confirmed the report, although he told Haaretz it was PRC operatives who had prepared to breach the wall, while Hamas policemen did not interfere.

In any case, Hamas has for months been discussing the need to take the initiative in ending the siege of Gaza. Apparently, after four days of hermetic closure, following months of siege, the planners believed the political and social conditions were ripe to bring down the iron wall that Israel had put up Wednesday around 3 A.M., the people of Rafah were awakened by a series of blasts  between 15 and 20, people said. The hospital in Rafah was put on advance alert to prepare for those who might be injured by Egyptian bullets. People started heading toward the blast sites, but a source who knew about the plan ahead of time told Haaretz Hamas men prevented them from going over to the Egyptian side before sunrise. At 6 A.M., the first people started to cross over to Egypt, and their numbers steadily increased. The market on the Egyptian side of Rafah opened early in honor of the visitors.

The New York Times (above) draws the same conclusion from different sources.

The Gazan exodus has pushed Egypt far out of their comfort zone.  Their initial reaction to the Israeli blockade was to support it, fulfilling their agreements to keep the border shut.  As the Egyptian public and the rest of the world observed the crisis escalate, pressure to open the border became impossible to ignore.  But Egypt is anxious to close, or at least tightly manage that border.  As various Israeli officials have been floating the notion that the border stay open permanently, or that Egypt actually assume responsibility for Gaza, Egyptian officials have been quick to react.

A top Egyptian official said Thursday, Egypt's border with Gaza would soon return to normal, and strongly rejected the idea - floated by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai - that Israel might relinquish all responsibility for the troubled Gaza Strip.  From Haaretz:

"This is a wrong assumption," Hossam Zaki, the official spokesman for Egypt's foreign ministry, said of Israeli hints that it was thinking of giving up all responsibility for Gaza including supplying electricity, now that the territory's southern border with Egypt is open.

"The current situation is only an exception and for temporary reasons, Zaki said. "The border will go back to normal."

Hamas is treading carefully, as it attempts to avoid antagonizing Egypt; from the same article:

...a Hamas spokesman said Thursday that Hamas may seek a role in a future on the Gaza-Egypt border and would prefer an official crossing point over an open border.

"An open border like this has no logic," Hamas government spokesman Taher Nunu said. "We are studying the mechanism of having an official crossing point."

However, it is not clear whether Egypt would acquiesce to such a suggestion.

And Hamas must be careful, because President Mubarak has no love for them, as the offshoot of Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that has been a source of significant political trouble for the government.  It may also be safely assumed, they are not excited at the prospect of inheriting refugees, nor shouldering the burden of maintaining all of Gaza.

In summation

Disengagement with Gaza by Israel will "officially" end their occupation, and release them from many (but not all) of the significant political and financial burdens of their perverse relationship.  The Gazans too, are looking with hope towards change.  Further events are likely to unfold at a pace rarely seen in the stasis of this long-term conflict, and many new issues are sure to arise.

It is most important to keep in mind, the best that may arise from these events will fall short of a final resolution to the fraught situation between Israel and Palestine.  Still, please forgive me for hoping we may finally be seeing the beginning of that resolution.  

Originally posted to Eric S on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 02:18 AM PST.


Who is presently the best choice to share an open border or official crossing with Gaza?

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