The Rafah crossing and geopolitical realities
Since the Palestinian Authority took control of the Palestinian side of Gaza’s Rafah Border Crossing, openings of the barrier have been the result of relative agreements between Egypt, Israel and the United States.
Egypt intentionally kept the crossing closed so the Gaza Strip does not lose its character of being an occupied territory. Egypt would sometimes open the crossing for humanitarian reasons.
Although Israel did not leave any troops inside the strip after its disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the Israelis did besiege and control the Palestinian territory. Israel carried out birth registrations and issued identity cards to Gazans. Israeli currency is still in circulation in Gaza and banks in the enclave are linked to the Israeli banking system.
When the crossing was opened, a de facto third geopolitical geography was established in Gaza in which the strip was separated from the West Bank.
This geopolitical reality strengthened Hamas — an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood — in Gaza, something that the Egyptian side is not willing to accept. The issue was also detrimental to the equation of having a unified Palestine.
The same type of independent political geography did not materialise for Palestinians in the West Bank on the Jordanian-Palestinian border. This reality reveals plans for establishing a separate Palestinian entity in Gaza. This is what the Egyptians were keen to avoid for reasons related to security as well as to their historical commitment to the Palestinian cause.
When Hamas grabbed control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Rafah remained shut except for urgent humanitarian cases. Hamas tried to win Egyptian recognition of Hamas’s security authority over the crossing on the Palestinian side but the Egyptians did not oblige because the issue went beyond Egyptian decisions. The Israeli side objected to that and the Americans, of course, supported the Israeli position.
As the Egyptians continued their efforts towards Palestinian reconciliation so that Gaza regains its character of being part of the Palestinian territories in the so-called peace process, Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s camp were behaving irrationally. They lacked a strategic vision of the situation, while Gaza inhabitants continued to suffer.
At first, Hamas rejected the legitimacy of the peace process that brought it to power in Gaza. Hamas denied the need for de-escalation with Israel and called for immediate resistance. Gaza was turned into a rocket-launching pad and a platform for the resistance propaganda.
These developments suited Israel’s hostile intentions very well. Gaza has become wedged between the resistance and its offensive programme until the Palestinians in Gaza, including Hamas, ended up in a defensive position.
To stop the evil deeds of the Israelis, Hamas found itself committing to the theory of a defensive resistance, to truce agreements and to denouncing its own rockets. From then on, Hamas could only bemoan the enemy’s crimes in Gaza and beseech different sides to mediate.
In this confusion, the Egyptians were trying to heal the Palestinian rift and achieve reconciliation but it was like taking one step forward and two steps back. Abbas showed a great deal of intransigence. The Egyptians continued to try with him but he kept demanding the removal of the so-called self-defence weapons of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza, a condition that no Palestinian would accept.
It has become clear that Abbas does not wish and has never wished for reconciliation. There is a small difference, however, between then and now.
In previous years both sides refused to reconcile because each had its own illusions and misperceptions. Recently, however, Hamas has lost most of its illusions and is no longer the main reason for the failure of reconciliation. Abbas wants Hamas to surrender and give up its weapons but to whom? To an authority that is responsible for destroying its own institutions? An authority that Abbas and his entourage have hijacked with no legal or constitutional basis?
It must be said that when the Palestinian Authority’s official police took over Rafah crossing, they made it easier for travellers to cross to the Egyptian side with respect. As for the journey on to Cairo, it was still waiting for further understandings between Abbas and Egypt to end the Palestinians’ suffering during their entry and exit. However, Abbas has not done that yet.