Questions Remain on Egypt-Gaza Border Opening

Posted on May 28, 2011

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The New York Times and other papers are today reporting the reopening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The opening is being presented as one of many changes of policy that will now be emerging in the post-Mubarak transition period in respect to internal and foreign affairs. Despite the fact that the volume of travelers has already increased dramatically, from only humanitarian cases, to children, men over the age of forty and women of all ages, questions still remain about how the border will operate.

As a result of the Rafah Agreement between the EU, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in 2005 [the PA had control over Gaza at the time], the EU’s Border Assistance Mission effectively represented Israel’s interest in matters of Palestinian immigration at Rafah according to agreements which allows Israel to specify blacklisted persons and other issues. Though on the flip side, it arguably represents Palestinians as well, the Rafah agreement is pretty clear that EUBAM’s main job is to make sure that the PA abides by the agreement, and the body can exercise legitimate force to do so.

Shortly before the announcement of the opening was made, EUBAM also announced that its mission would be renewed at the border, presumably on the Palestinian side, a few days ago, although it can’t operate without permission of both Israel and the PA. How this new border opening will play out in light of recent agreements between Fatah and Hamas remains to be seen. EUBAM also has a long standing ban on operating under Hamas authority, which means that any activity on their part must be negotiated with the Fatah led PA. It’s not clear how the interim government agreement between Hamas and the PA will affect the Rafah crossing. It seems that the PA would again be obligated under the agreement. Earlier this month, Hamas seemed to acknowledge this reality by claiming that it would not oppose EUBAM’s operation at Rafah.

Thus, it seems, the opening of the border by Egypt belies a far more complicated border control dynamic than is being superficially written about. On the Palestinian side, there are a lot of factors going on, and no one seems to be mentioning them.

[I accidentally published an earlier version of this article a few minutes ago, which should be disregarded].