World View: Opening Rafah Border Key Goal of Hamas

This morning's key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • The Gaza ceasefire: Things to watch for
  • Questions about the Palestinian delegation to the ceasefire talks
  • The Rafah crossing becomes a major issue in the Gaza war
  • Report: Hamas planned massive attack through tunnels on Israeli citizens

The Gaza ceasefire: Things to watch for

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon jointly announced on Thursday a 3-day ceasefire in the Gaza war, to begin on Friday morning. The ceasefire will allow time to provide humanitarian aid to Gazans. 

Israeli and Palestinian delegations will go immediately to Cairo Egypt, with the aim of reaching "a durable ceasefire." 

As I wrote yesterday, Israel and Hamas agree on very little, but one thing that they both agree on is that neither side will accept an agreement that restores the status quo ante. This observation leads to a number of issues and questions:.

During the ceasefire, Israel's troops will remain in place in Gaza, according to the ceasefire announcement. However, the ceasefire statement left open the question of whether the Israeli army would continue military operations to destroy the Hamas tunnel network during the ceasefire. Israel's president Benjamin Netanyahu stated clearly, prior to the ceasefire announcement, that the army would continue these military operations "with or without a ceasefire." It's unclear whether Hamas was aware of these terms when they agreed to the ceasefire. It's also unclear what Hamas's reaction would be in case a Palestinian is accidentally killed during these military operations. 

The ceasefire announcement came several hours after Israel announced that it was calling up 16,000 more army reservists. It's unclear what role they'll have now. 

The "durable ceasefire" negotiations will begin as soon as all the parties arrive in Cairo. It's known that an Israeli delegation, a Palestinian delegation, the U.S.,  and Egypt will take part in the negotiations. BBC and Jerusalem Post

Questions about the Palestinian delegation to the ceasefire talks

It's not entirely clear what the makeup of the Palestinian delegation will be. The U.S. and Israel insist that Hamas, which is viewed as a terrorist group, must not be given the same status as the other parties, and so the U.S. and Israel will not sit at the same table as Hamas. However, recall that the Palestinians recently agreed to a "unity government," joining the Palestinian Authority (PA/PLO/Fatah) and Hamas into a single government. The plan is for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to represent the unity government, including Hamas, as well as other Palestinian factions, such as Islamic Jihad. It will be interesting to see how that goes. 

Israel's committed military objectives are to totally disarm Hamas by destroying all the rockets and tunnels. Since those objectives will not be reached, will Israel agree to extending the ceasefire beyond 3 days, if it even lasts that long? 

And suppose by some miracle Israel succeeded in destroying every single rocket and every single tunnel. What would prevent Hamas from reconstructing them in the event of a permanent ceasefire? Reuters

The Rafah crossing becomes a major issue in the Gaza war

Hamas's committed objective is to get the "siege" lifted, which would permit people and goods to flow freely out of Gaza. There are a few border crossings into Israel, but the most important aspect of this objective is opening the Rafah border crossing that connects Egypt and Gaza. If Hamas agrees to a ceasefire without getting the Rafah crossing opened, then Hamas will almost certainly not survive with Gaza. So Hamas needs the Rafah crossing open just for its own survival. 

The Rafah crossing was closed in July of last year following an attack on Egyptian security forces by Islamists linked to Hamas. Since then it's been closed almost permanently. Even during the current war, Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing closed, except to evacuate wounded Palestinians and to allow the importation of food and medicines. 

In fact, opening the Rafah crossing is a matter of considerable debate within Egypt itself. Many Egyptians are sympathetic with the plight of the Palestinian people living in Gaza and would like to see their difficulties alleviated. Other Egyptians note that Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a terrorist organization in Egypt, and fear that opening the Rafah crossing would give a boost to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to one Egyptian columnist: 

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 [Gaza] 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.

Those dreamers who fantasize that this ceasefire arrangement will last more than a couple of hours or a couple of days are hoping that some deal can be made where the Rafah crossing is opened and is guarded by Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah. Memri and Guardian (London-7/17)

Report: Hamas planned massive attack through tunnels on Israeli citizens

There are unconfirmed reports that Hamas was planning a massive assault on civilians in southern Israel on Rosh Hashanah in late September. The plan was that 200 Hamas fighters would pour through the dozens of tunnels that Hamas has dug under the border between Gaza and Israel and attack numerous Israeli communities, killing and kidnapping as many civilians as possible. According to the reports, they would have IDF (Israeli Defense Force) uniforms, causing further confusion. It's possible that Hezbollah might have joined in. The current unplanned war with Hamas inadvertently thwarted these plans, allowing the destruction of the tunnels, which made such an attack an impossibility. Jewish Press

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, John Kerry, Ban Ki-moon, Israel, Gaza, Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Fatah, Egypt, Rafah border crossing, Muslim Brotherhood 

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