Palestinian Authority officials are competing to talk about what they call the 2005 crossings agreement. However, the truth is that the understandings were not signed by any one, and therefore, there is nothing called the crossing agreement. These are not my words, but the words of the Head of Mission for European Union Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point (EUBAM Rafah), who attended an event organised by Pal-Think for Strategic Studies years ago, during which he said there is no signed agreement between the concerned parties; it is a “gentleman’s agreement”. This means it is a moral understanding, regardless of what you want to call it.
These understandings between the PA and Israel were made under American auspices, after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 for a temporary period of one year. It was meant to organise relations between the two sides until the PA takes over full responsibility. The agreement stipulated the presence of the EU to monitor the implementation of understandings regarding the Rafah crossing. However, the European envoy withdrew from the crossing during the Gaza battle in June 2007. It had visited the crossing every six months and the most recent visit was a week before.
Despite not being a part of these understandings, Egypt dealt positively with them. It operated the crossing on an exceptional basis in light of the escalating blockade crises, not in accordance with the understandings. I do not believe it is happy upholding the crossings understandings.
The situation and environment under which these understandings were reached are out-dated given the current reality and political developments. It is a chance for the PA and Egypt to make the crossing a purely Egyptian-Palestinian port, without any intervention from Israel or any other part. I do not know what the PA insists on inviting the occupation to participate in these non-binding understands. I also do not understand why they have limited the understandings to the Rafah crossing, and neglected the rest of the agreements, despite their importance. This is a new national setback, making nearly two million Palestinians hostage to the occupation.
The only way I understand the PA’s adherence to the 2005 understandings is in the context of strengthening and deepening the security coordination with the occupation, the PA’s pursuit of dependency not sovereignty, as some claim, and the return of the travel ban lists, especially on members of the Palestinian resistance. The Rafah crossing operated for more than ten years without Israeli or European intervention, and it should continue as a purely Egyptian-Palestinian crossing. However, resorting back to European monitoring and installing cameras that show the occupation what is happening at the crossing is an anti-national act that poses a danger to our people and their security. It is also indirect Israeli control of the crossing and I fear the PA will use Israel to gang up on Gaza and the resistance factions in it.
Israel has cleverly neglected to address the 2005 understandings because it is aware that they do not only address the Rafah crossing, but also the operation of the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank. This is a form of geographical unity and a link between the West Bank and Gaza. The understandings also address the operation of the airport, seaport, the use of the Rafah crossing to export goods, and the operation of the Al-Montar (Karni) crossing. This puts Israel in an awkward situation, because these understandings must either be implemented in one go or not implemented at all. However, every free national rejects the idea of Israel being selective in which parts it implements in order for it to serve its purposes.
The greater national interest for our people requires distancing Israel from the Rafah crossing and disregarding the understandings that Israel buried with its on-going attacks and aggression against Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. We must establish new agreements with Egypt regarding the operation of the Rafah crossing without interference from any other party, as this threatens Palestinian sovereignty.
This article first appeared in Arabic on 17 November 2017 on the Palestinian Information Centre