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May 31, 2011 6:22 pm

Gaza Border Open, Good or Bad for Israel?

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has instructed Gaza residents to avoid “anything that could compromise the reopening of the terminal.”  That terminal is the Raffa Crossing point, newly opened after a four year period of virtually complete closure.  Palestinians held a “thank you” rally honoring their Egyptian brothers May 28, 2011, shortly after the crossing was opened.  The admonition cautioning restraint had been made during the installation of a monument dedicated to the Turkish flotilla members shot during the 2010 attempt to breech the Israeli naval blockade.

The easing of the blockage is a by-product of the Egyptian revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011.  Since 2007, when Hamas seized control in Gaza, Israel and Egypt had maintained a tightly restricted terminal, limiting products and persons allowed to exit or enter.  Under the new system, most restrictions are lifted, and a large number of Palestinians are expected to be able to cross each day, easing a backlog that has seen people waiting for months. However, Palestinians hoping for easier transit and increased trade have instead found that bureaucratic limitations continue.

The effects of the border opening remain unknown.  The open flow of goods should significantly enhance the commercial life of the inhabitants of the Hamas controlled territory, and the policy change is a distinct differentiation between Egypt’s transitional government and the Mubarak regime. The interim government has also announced its plan to re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran, an action certainly “leaving Israel and the U.S. uneasy and unsure over how to react.”

The effect such changes will have on the Israeli-Egyptian relations remains to be analyzed.

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Could the Egyptian action actually have a political benefit for Israel?  Certainly, the Jewish State can no longer be accused of keeping Gaza a closed territory.  The easing of the blockage is a by-product of the Egyptian revolution and the ouster of the regime of Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011. Israel and Egypt no longer control merchandise flow, limit humanitarian actions, or controls security. A flotilla carrying “humanitarian” aid, construction materials, and “banned goods” is scheduled to sail in June.  The border opening quite literally takes the “wind out of the sails” of that or any future blockade breaking flotilla effort. The opening of the Raffa terminal ends those strict regulations, enabling Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor to tell Israel Radio that “Gaza is not under closure, because it is open to Egypt.”

The Wall Street Journal quotes Gamal Abdel Gawad, a foreign-policy analyst at an Egyptian government-funded think tank, the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, who says “Israel wants to get rid of the burden of Gaza and throw it like a hot potato to Egypt and make it responsible for everything about it.”  With the border opening, Egypt may find itself overseer of food, utilities and other ordinary goods for the people of Gaza.

Israel now allows more than 75% of “pre blockage” items into Gaza on an unrestricted basis.  This is an increase of almost 2800 items designated “allowed” since the Mavi Marmara event.  Gaza’s economy, while not “normal” has improved – even “hi tech” items are available in local stores, and limited construction projects have been scheduled.

An additional consequence of the anticipated unification/coooperation/unity of the PA and Hamas: Israel froze $88 million in Palestinian funds Sunday, elevating tensions over an Egyptian initiative to broker a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and raising new concerns about the prospects for peace in the region.

Israel collects some tax and customs fees for the Palestinian Authority under peace agreements of the 1990s. Israel has at times held up and then ultimately released cash transfers several times in the past decade, citing concerns that the money was being used to fund attacks against Israelis. Perhaps in response to this change in policy and unknown direction of future actions, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz froze $88 million in Palestinian customs revenue.

“I think the burden of proof is on the Palestinians, to make it certain, to give us guarantees, that money delivered by Israel is not going to the Hamas, is not going to a terrorist organization, is not going to finance terror operations against Israeli citizens,” Mr. Steinitz said.

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