No compromise on Rafah

Doaa El-Bey , Wednesday 22 May 2024

Egypt is adamant in its opposition to any Israeli involvement in managing the Rafah crossing.

No compromise on Rafah


On Saturday, Egypt rejected an Israeli proposal that Cairo and Tel Aviv jointly control the Rafah crossing, insisting it can only be managed by Palestinian authorities.

The Rafah crossing has been central to the delivery of aid to Gaza and its post-war management is a vital issue for Egypt, Israel, and the region.

The proposal was presented to Egypt by a Shin Bet — Israeli security service — official during a visit to Cairo last week and detailed a mechanism for the reopening and managing of the crossing following an Israeli withdrawal. The plan is said to involve the “unofficial participation” of Palestinian representatives under Israeli supervision.

A diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said Egypt’s rejection of any Israeli involvement in running the crossing was to be expected. The proposed Israeli plan, he said, would not ease the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza since it stipulated the crossing would be used to facilitate the movement of people to and from the Strip under Israeli supervision. Aid deliveries to Gaza would be by the Karam Abu Salem crossing and thoroughly inspected by Israeli authorities.

“The lack of clarity in Israel’s position has caused uncertainty over any post-war planning,” said the diplomat. He noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had categorically rejected any international or Palestinian role in Gaza’s administration, insisting that Israel keep overall security of the Strip, before apparently changing his mind.

The Israeli proposal came as Netanyahu is facing increasing pressure from his cabinet to disclose post-war plans for Gaza. Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet and Netanyahu’s main political rival, said he would resign from the government on 8 June if Netanyahu fails to come up with a plan for the management of civilian affairs in Gaza involving a joint international, Arab, and Palestinian administration.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant also called for a plan for Palestinian administration, saying in a speech this week that he would not agree to Israel governing Gaza, an option he described as “a bad alternative dangerous to Israel”.

Netanyahu’s opponents, including thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in recent months, accuse him of prolonging the war in an attempt to secure his own political survival.

Meanwhile, Hamas, which has run Gaza since 2007, rejects any post-war settlement that excludes the group. In a speech broadcast after the Israeli takeover of the Rafah crossing, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh insisted the group will participate in the administration of Gaza after the war, saying “Hamas and the Al-Qassam Brigades are here to stay and administer the Strip.” Whether they want to do so in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority (PA) remains unclear.

The US has called for a revitalised PA to govern Gaza, with assistance from some Arab states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, ahead of eventual statehood.

Egypt’s relations with Tel Aviv deteriorated further following Israel’s takeover of Rafah, with Cairo closing its side of the crossing.

Tensions between the two countries escalated when Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri traded accusations on the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in southern Gaza. Katz wrote on X that he had spoken with British Foreign Minister David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock “about the need to persuade Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing to allow continued delivery of international humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

 “The key to preventing a humanitarian catastrophe is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends,” he said.

In response, Shoukri issued a statement underlining Egypt’s “rejection of Israel’s policy of distorting facts and disavowing responsibility” and noting that Israel is “solely responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe currently endured by Palestinians in Gaza”.

Egypt has registered its opposition to the Rafah crossing takeover in several ways: it has pointed to the possible ramifications of the move on the 40-year-old peace treaty between Egypt and Israel; has threatened to downgrade diplomatic relations, and has offered support to South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

“Unless the West — and the US in particular — ratchets up the pressure on Israel to take irreversible steps towards a two-state solution there is no way to prevent future confrontations in the occupied Palestinian territories or maintain stability in the region,” warned the diplomat.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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