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August 1, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5812

Egyptian Columnists: Gaza Conflict Is Over Rafah Crossing

August 1, 2014
Palestine, Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 5812

Against the backdrop of the current Gaza conflict, several pro-regime Egyptian columnists have written about Hamas' demands to open the Rafah crossing as a condition for a ceasefire, and claimed that this conflict was against Egypt more than it was against Israel. They said that getting the Rafah Crossing opened, with the aim of assuring Hamas' continued control in Gaza, was the real reason for the current round of fighting, and that the fighting was unrelated to the Palestinian national struggle.

Most of the columnists think that Egypt should reject Hamas' demand for a full opening of the crossing, because that would constitute recognition of the movement's rule in Gaza, would provide a boost to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and would endanger Egyptian national security. Some support the reopening of the crossing in accordance with the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, under which the Palestinian Authority (PA) must control the Palestinian side of the crossing under the supervision of an EU taskforce.

It should be mentioned that following the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza, Egypt closed the Rafah crossing and refused to open it until the PA reestablished control of Gaza. Hamas assumed that its recent reconciliation with the PA would force Egypt to reopen the crossing, but Egypt persisted in its objections to fully open it, and, since the fighting began, has opened it only briefly for humanitarian purposes to allow the transport of several dozen injured Palestinians to Egyptian hospitals and to send in food and medical supplies. Several requests by local activists and by other countries, including Tunisia and Iran, to transfer aid to Gaza via Egypt have been denied.

To Hamas' chagrin, in contrast to the 2012 Egyptian ceasefire initiative which called for opening the crossings to the passage of people and goods within 24 hours of the ceasefire's coming into force, the 2014 ceasefire initiative made opening the crossings conditional upon stability on the ground, without setting a timetable. This was seen by Hamas as an attempt to avoid opening the crossing, and is the basis of its objection to the current Egyptian initiative. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said that the Rafah crossing is unrelated to the siege of Gaza, and that the six crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip should be opened, while the Rafah crossing has already been opened and remained open when circumstances in the Sinai and the region permitted.[1]

Following are excerpts from the columns:

Hamas's Only Concern Is Rafah Crossing; Aims To Realize MB Dream

Moustafa Mahmoud, writing in Al-Wafd, said: "The most important question now is why [Hamas] insists on unconditionally opening or internationalizing the Rafah crossing, especially considering that it is only one of seven crossings into Gaza. Why is Hamas rejecting the offer from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to send a European delegation to supervise the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel – especially considering that European supervision of the crossings would help create a long-term calm that would meet the legitimate needs of both sides regarding security and free passage? Reality indicates that Hamas's only concern is the Rafah crossing, and that its goal is to use it to infiltrate Egypt and realize the MB dream of strengthening the Palestinians from the Sinai...

"Israel, being the occupying force, is currently the one in charge of the Gaza Strip, not Hamas or the PA. International law requires that Israel, as the occupying force, be responsible for the Gaza Strip, but Hamas is unconcerned by this, and is only concerned with the Rafah crossing and with involving the Egyptian leadership..."[2]

Opening Rafah Crossing Is Contrary To Egyptian Interests

Al-Masri Al-Yawm columnist Gamal Abu Al-Hassan wrote: "Hamas feels greatly isolated since the regime change in Egypt and the subsequent closure of the commercial tunnels – tunnels that went under Rafah and constituted the movement's financial lifeline. What really bothers the movement is the loss of its status as the ruling force in the Strip. We must note that Hamas is no longer carrying out resistance as a constant, ongoing strategy to liberate the land, but rather is conducting 'seasonal resistance' to achieve certain political ends at specific times. Its primary goal is to preserve its control in the Strip – a goal that is under heavy threat due to the pressure applied to the movement from several directions. The only solution for Hamas is to strive to change the existing situation in any way...

"The problem is that the current war is very complex, and in truth it does not have two sides, but rather three. It is like a triangle with Egypt at its head. Hamas's current goals are related to Egypt more than to Israel. This is evident in Hamas's explanation of the reasons it rejected the Egyptian ceasefire initiative of July 14, 2014. The most important thing that Hamas demanded was the opening of the Rafah crossing. Let us say in all honesty: At its base, this war revolves around the status of the Rafah crossing!

"As far as Hamas is concerned, opening the crossing – as a trade and economic route and not just for humanitarian purposes – is the only way to fundamentally change the existing situation. It is the last chance to ensure Hamas's control of the Strip. This is evident from the fact that agreeing to open the crossing is the only thing that could ensure an immediate end to all military action, even though opening it for commercial reasons has nothing to do with the struggle against Israel or the liberation of occupied lands in the Strip. This is a move related to something far more important as far as [Hamas] is concerned: its continued control over 'the liberated Gaza emirate'!

"Opening the crossing for commercial purposes does not align with Egypt's interests and strongly undermines its policy and national security needs, especially in the long term. Operating the crossing with Hamas on the other side means a full recognition of its rule in Gaza. This is Hamas's ultimate goal. If Egypt agrees to it, then it essentially agrees to a new country on its border – a country of 1.7 million people who suffer unemployment and are rife with ideas of jihad and takfir; a country ruled by an armed movement with regional alliances and political goals that totally contradict the basic foundations of Egyptian security. These foundations are based on respecting the peace agreement with Israel and spurring it to agree to a solution for its conflict with the Palestinians via peaceful negotiations, and in accordance with the principle of land for peace and the Two State Solution.

"When you look at the situation in the Sinai Peninsula – 66,000 hectares with fewer than 400,000 residents – the severity of the long-term situation becomes clear. The ultimate goal of the Hamas strategy is to turn Sinai into the Strip's strategic depth. This is no exaggeration but rather a reality of which there have been early signs in the past decade – during which rebellion, violence, and terrorism have spread in the Sinai Peninsula. The spread of violence in the Sinai coincides almost directly with the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the strip in September 2005 and the establishment of 'the Islamic emirate [in Gaza].'

"There are signs that the current round of conflict will be settled at Egypt's expense. We must be vigilant. We cannot agree to reshuffle the deck. The Rafah crossing was open from November 2005 until the Hamas coup in June 2007. We cannot agree to open the crossing for commercial purposes unless it is part of a restoration of the previous situation – meaning that the PA returns to the strip and Hamas agrees to hold elections. Anything else is an abandonment of our security and national interest."[3]

Hamas Is To Blame For Rafah Closure Due To Its Refusal To Abide By 2005 Agreement On Movement And Access

In a column in the pro-regime daily Al-Watan, Gamal 'Abd Al-Gawad, a lecturer at the American University in Cairo and a senior research fellow at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, wrote: "The geographic proximity between Gaza and Egypt, as well as many other things, make Egypt a direct party in the conflict raging on Palestinian land. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be resolved soon, and Egypt must not put its credibility to the test by searching for a solution to a conflict that is not yet ripe to be resolved. The racism of the ruling Israeli right, the schism of the Palestinian factions, and the hypocrisy of America and the West do not enable a solution in the foreseeable future to the Palestinian problem... Managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and not solving it, is the proper strategic definition of Egyptian policy at this stage...

"Egypt should strengthen the Palestinians and also weaken Hamas's grip on Gaza as part of its policy of managing the conflict. Egypt is the gateway to the outside world for Gaza residents, and it should facilitate this. Any Palestinian who wants to pass through Egypt for work, study, treatment, or pilgrimage should not be denied it, so long as it does not endanger Egypt's national security. Egypt needs a reliable Palestinian partner on the other side of the border to ensure the identities and intentions of those wishing to pass [into Egypt]. The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access tasked the Palestinian Presidential Guard with managing [the crossings]. Until Hamas agrees to allow the Presidential Guard to resume controlling the crossings, any delay in granting freedom of movement to the Palestinians via the crossing is on Hamas's hands, not Cairo's.

"Egypt should open a consulate in Gaza as part of mutual understandings with the legitimate Mahmoud 'Abbas government. The Egyptian consulate in Gaza should be one of Egypt's most important and largest consulates abroad, and will grant Palestinians who wish to pass through the crossings visas in a respectable manner that spares them suffering and humiliation, and will present aid to Gaza residents. Egypt will not recognize a Hamas regime that is separate from the PA and will not hold relations with it aside from on very narrow issues that serve Palestinians...

"Egypt should be the only partner in coordinating the transfer of Arab and international aid to Gaza. This aid will not be given to the Hamas authorities, but rather to civil service organizations run by credible Palestinians that will be carefully selected by Egypt. Hamas may oppose this policy and persecute Palestinians collaborating with Egypt. In that case, the world will see who stands with the Palestinian people and who stands against it..."[4]

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Watan; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 25, 2014. Also see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1106, Egypt's Position On Gaza Conflict Reflects Conflict Between Its Hatred For Hamas And Its Solidarity With The Palestinians, July 24, 2014.

[2] Al-Wafd (Egypt), July 20, 2014.

[3] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 27, 2014.

[4] Al-Watan (Egypt), July 19, 2014.

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