Egypt Hesitates to Reopen Rafah Crossing

Article Summary
Danny Rubinstein observes that Qatari financial aid has kept Gaza afloat and that Egypt is worried about the consequences of reopening the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Since the beginning of the present military operation in Gaza, Israel has taken care not to damage the infrastructures in the Gaza Strip. And while the building that served as the seat of the Hamas government was bombarded, no roads, bridges or electricity lines were hit. At the same time, two television stations – Al-Aqsa TV (the official Hamas-run television channel) and Al Quds TV (seen by Israel as a Hamas propaganda branch) – were attacked and their broadcasts disrupted. According to Palestinian reports, some of the generators at the Gaza power plant were damaged and electricity supply to the Gaza Strip residents has consequently been reduced to only 12 hours a day.

Nevertheless, life in Gaza was carried on more or less normally, even under the Israeli air strikes, thanks to the generous economic aid provided by Qatar. In the last week alone [the week of Nov. 11] the Emirate of Qatar streamed over 400 million dollars and huge quantities of fuel to the Hamas government. At the same time, while displaying political solidarity with Gaza, the Arab states refrain for the time being from funneling more funds and goods into Gaza.

Via the official route and through the tunnels

In recent days, the Gaza Strip has become even more dependent commercially on Egypt, as reflected first and foremost in the southern Rafah crossing into Egypt. When Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visited Gaza [on Nov. 16], he heard once again the Hamas recurrent requests for the opening of the Rafah crossing by Egypt to the passage of goods. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was asked about the issue a couple of days ago but declined to comment. These requests by the Hamas government are mainly politically based. The opening of the Rafah crossing as an official border crossing would mean the recognition of its standing as the legitimate sovereign government of Gaza. The Egyptians are undecided about it. It is more convenient for them to have the trade between Egypt and Gaza carried on under cover, through the tunnels.

The foreign trade of Gaza has been passing in recent years in two ways: through the official route, from Israel, via the Kerem Shalom crossing (on the Gaza Strip-Israel-Egypt border), and under cover, by smuggling through the tunnels. In the first week of November, close to 1,500 trucks passed through the Kerem Shalom crossing. According to the Israeli Gisha organization (a non-governmental group for the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents), 40% of the trucks passing via Kerem Shalom are carrying food, a further 40% are transporting construction materials that cannot be put to military use such as fortifications, and the other 20% are conveying electrical appliances, medications, diapers, generators for domestic use and other goods.

Fear of Israeli disengagement

The tunnels running from Rafah are used primarily for smuggling fuel and cigarettes, which are sold at a very low price in Egypt. The fuel smuggled through the tunnels causes Egypt losses estimated at 100 million dollars a month, as the fuel is a subsidized commodity in Egypt. Why, then, are they willing in Cairo to expend even more money on Gaza, but are not ready to comply with the Hamas request to open the Rafah crossing for the passage of goods?

The reasons are apparently political. The Egyptians fear that an agreement on their part to fully open the crossing would be interpreted as the revocation of the Oslo accords, which stipulate an Israeli-Palestinian customs union, that is, the establishment of a single economic unit for the purpose of customs and import policy. In that case (the Egyptians reckon), Israel would be able to completely close the Kerem Shalom crossing, a step that may be conducive to the “separation” policy of the (Israeli) government. What’s more, the Egyptians fear that, with time, their involvement in Gaza would require them to assume responsibility for the Gaza Strip.

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Found in: rafah crossing, rafah, qatar, morsi, military operation, military, israel, gaza strip, gaza, egypt, economy
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