World View: Opening Rafah Border Key Goal of Hamas

World View: Opening Rafah Border Key Goal of Hamas

This morning’s key headlines from

  • 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-GeneralBan Ki-moon jointly announced on Thursday a 3-day ceasefirein the Gaza war, to begin on Friday morning. The ceasefirewill allow time to provide humanitarian aid to Gazans. 

Israeli and Palestinian delegations will go immediately to CairoEgypt, with the aim of reaching “a durable ceasefire.” 

As I wrote yesterday, Israel andHamas agree on very little, but one thing that they both agree on isthat neither side will accept an agreement that restores the statusquo ante. This observation leads to a number of issuesand questions:.

During the ceasefire, Israel’s troops will remain in place in Gaza,according to the ceasefire announcement. However, the ceasefirestatement left open the question of whether the Israeli army wouldcontinue military operations to destroy the Hamas tunnel networkduring the ceasefire. Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu statedclearly, prior to the ceasefire announcement, that the army wouldcontinue these military operations “with or without a ceasefire.”It’s unclear whether Hamas was aware of these terms when they agreedto the ceasefire. It’s also unclear what Hamas’s reaction wouldbe in case a Palestinian is accidentally killed during thesemilitary operations. 

The ceasefire announcement came several hours after Israel announcedthat it was calling up 16,000 more army reservists. It’s unclear whatrole they’ll have now. 

The “durable ceasefire” negotiations will begin as soon as all theparties arrive in Cairo. It’s known that an Israeli delegation, aPalestinian delegation, the U.S.,  and Egypt will take part in thenegotiations. BBC andJerusalem Post

Questions about the Palestinian delegation to the ceasefire talks

It’s not entirely clear what the makeup of the Palestinian delegationwill be. The U.S. and Israel insist that Hamas, which is viewed as aterrorist group, must not be given the same status as the otherparties, and so the U.S. and Israel will not sit at the same table asHamas. However, recall that the Palestinians recently agreed to aand Hamas into a single government. The plan is for Palestinianpresident Mahmoud Abbas to represent the unity government, includingHamas, 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 disarmHamas by destroying all the rockets and tunnels. Since thoseobjectives will not be reached, will Israel agree to extendingthe ceasefire beyond 3 days, if it even lasts that long? 

And suppose by some miracle Israel succeeded in destroying everysingle rocket and every single tunnel. What would prevent Hamas fromreconstructing 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 wouldpermit people and goods to flow freely out of Gaza. There are a fewborder crossings into Israel, but the most important aspect of thisobjective is opening the Rafah border crossing that connects Egypt andGaza. If Hamas agrees to a ceasefire without getting the Rafahcrossing opened, then Hamas will almost certainly not survive withGaza. So Hamas needs the Rafah crossing open just for its ownsurvival. 

The Rafah crossing was closed in July of last year following an attackon Egyptian security forces by Islamists linked to Hamas. Since thenit’s been closed almost permanently. Even during the current war,Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing closed, except to evacuate woundedPalestinians and to allow the importation of food and medicines. 

In fact, opening the Rafah crossing is a matter of considerable debatewithin Egypt itself. Many Egyptians are sympathetic with the plightof the Palestinian people living in Gaza and would like to see theirdifficulties alleviated. Other Egyptians note that Hamas is anoffshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered aterrorist organization in Egypt, and fear that opening the Rafahcrossing would give a boost to the Muslim Brotherhood. Accordingto one Egyptian columnist: 

As far as Hamas is concerned, opening the crossing -as a trade and economic route and not just for humanitarianpurposes – is the only way to fundamentally change the existingsituation. It is the last chance to ensure Hamas’s control of theStrip. This is evident from the fact that agreeing to open thecrossing is the only thing that could ensure an immediate end toall military action, even though opening it for commercial reasonshas nothing to do with the struggle against Israel or theliberation of occupied lands in the [Gaza] Strip. This is a moverelated to something far more important as far as [Hamas] isconcerned: its continued control over ‘the liberated Gazaemirate’!

Opening the crossing for commercial purposes does not align withEgypt’s interests and strongly undermines its policy and nationalsecurity needs, especially in the long term. Operating thecrossing with Hamas on the other side means a full recognition ofits rule in Gaza. This is Hamas’s ultimate goal. If Egypt agreesto it, then it essentially agrees to a new country on its border -a country of 1.7 million people who suffer unemployment and arerife with ideas of jihad and takfir; a country ruled by an armedmovement with regional alliances and political goals that totallycontradict the basic foundations of Egyptian security. Thesefoundations are based on respecting the peace agreement withIsrael and spurring it to agree to a solution for its conflictwith the Palestinians via peaceful negotiations, and in accordancewith the principle of land for peace and the Two StateSolution.

Those dreamers who fantasize that this ceasefire arrangement will lastmore than a couple of hours or a couple of days are hoping that somedeal can be made where the Rafah crossing is opened and is guarded byMahmoud Abbas’s Fatah. Memri andGuardian (London-7/17)

Report: Hamas planned massive attack through tunnels on Israeli citizens

There are unconfirmed reports that Hamas was planning a massiveassault on civilians in southern Israel on Rosh Hashanah in lateSeptember. The plan was that 200 Hamas fighters would pour throughthe dozens of tunnels that Hamas has dug under the border between Gazaand Israel and attack numerous Israeli communities, killing andkidnapping as many civilians as possible. According to the reports,they would have IDF (Israeli Defense Force) uniforms, causing furtherconfusion. It’s possible that Hezbollah might have joined in. Thecurrent 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 

Permanent web link to this article

Receive daily World View columns by e-mail