The opening of Gaza’s border crossings: The devil is in the details

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A truck loaded with goods drives after entering the Gaza Strip from Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing on August 28, 2014 in Rafah in the southern Gaza. (Photo: AFP-Said Khatib)

By: Hani Ibrahim

Published Monday, September 1, 2014

The ceasefire negotiations that took place in Cairo have not yielded any substantial results for the Palestinians living in Gaza. Up until now, they have not felt any positive changes except that fishermen are able to sail up to six nautical miles, and farmers are starting to return to their now destroyed lands.

As the people of Gaza have their eyes fixed on the six crossings linking the Strip to the occupied territories (some of them had been previously closed), awaiting merchandise and aid to come through, they place great importance on the reopening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

Within the framework of the agreement reached in Cairo, the “Palestinian-Egyptian crossing,” as Egypt likes to call it, was excluded from the negotiations which only focused on crossings linking the Strip to the occupied territories. Meanwhile, local security sources have reported a steady increase in the amount of goods entering Gaza through the crossings with Israel.

Contrary to the 2012 agreement, which allowed the Rafah crossing to be opened without the presence of the Palestinian Authority, Cairo has insisted this time that it will not open the crossing completely and will not allow it to function normally until it receives an official notification by the Palestinian Authority ensuring that it will be present on the crossing and along the borders with Egypt.

Palestinian factions taking part in these negotiations have not rejected this condition; they agreed that all crossings with the occupation are to be put under the control of the consensus government. In the meantime, the Ministry of the Interior of the former Gaza government said the crossing “has been functioning under emergency rules since the second half of the war” and that only individuals fitting certain criteria are allowed to cross into Egypt, including people holding foreign passports, the wounded and those holding residency permits, adding that “only 300 to 350 people are allowed to exit per day.”

Hamas political bureau member Moussa Abu Marzouk assured that his faction does not oppose allowing the consensus government to oversee the implementation of the agreement reached in Cairo “including the issues of the port and airport.”

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Abu Marzouk welcomed the return of the presidential guards who were the old employees at the crossing, but refused the dismissal of current employees or “considering them illegitimate.”

Meanwhile, details about the functioning of the crossings with Israel and the type of materials allowed to pass through them have yet to be fully decided on, especially since building materials, crucial for the reconstruction process, have not been allowed in.

Even at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing located in northern Gaza which is devoted for the passage of individuals, there have been no signs about specific measures that would permit people to cross into the West Bank.

However, some crossings may not be operational, including the Carny crossing in eastern Gaza, which Israel shut down in 2011 and transferred most of its equipment to the Karm Abu Salem crossing. The latter became “a focus point,” since it is well-equipped for commerce.

In addition, the Shujayeh (Nahal Oz) crossing in the east of the Strip was closed down then completely removed in 2010, although it had ground tanks to transport oil derivatives (fuel, diesel and gas), while the Sofa crossing in southern Gaza was turned into a barren desert. It had been used before the siege to transport construction materials and continued to be used early on during the siege to transport merchandise, but it was later shut down completely.

Karm Abu Salem crossing has a maximum capacity to receive 450 trucks a day while the Gaza Strip needs a total of 1,000 trucks every day of the year without any interruptions. Today, the crossing is not working in full capacity, allowing only about 320 trucks to pass through each day. It is opened five to six days a week, except on Israeli holidays, depending on security conditions.
According to the Gaza Chamber of Commerce, the crossing closed down for 130 days in 2014, which means it was not operational for 35 per cent of the year.

Abu Marzouk said the agreement stipulated that the five crossings with Israel are to be opened and that the “volume of goods going through them will increase to at least the same volume entering the West Bank, while Palestinians are to choose the goods they need.”

“The agreement explicitly stipulated that the occupation does not get to control Palestinian needs and that it is our right to bring in basic and heavy materials needed for Gaza’s factories.”

Meanwhile, Al-Akhbar learnt that the Palestinian delegation did not go through the details about the five crossings, whether opened or closed. It postponed the topic until the resumption of the Cairo negotiations in a few days in order to clarify the details before reaching a final agreement within a month, as scheduled.

Other sources confirmed that former Vice Prime Minister Ziad Zaza accompanied the delegation in his capacity as an economic expert to discuss this issue, and to present his vision about the way to deal with economic matters in the framework of the agreement.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Zaza revealed that the current agreement is not very different from the one signed in Cairo back in 2012 “regarding the opening of the crossings and facilitating the passage of people and goods,” but he did not elaborate on the details concerning the implementation mechanism.

For his part, Abu Marzouk stressed that the agreement explicitly stipulates lifting the siege completely and opening all crossings. “We are waiting for the details,” he said.

It seems that the delegation gave a top priority to the issue of the sea passage that the Palestinian side has been insisting on it even before the end of the war, in order to disengage with both Israel and Egypt. This endeavor is still in progress and all actions were taken under this ceiling. This is why the negotiations have not yet gone deep into the details about the crossings.

Before the war, the unemployment rate in Gaza was estimated at 45 per cent (over 200,000 people) with over 700,000 citizens losing their daily source of income, which represents over a third of Gaza’s residents according to statistics by the Chamber of Commerce.

Sources in the chamber told Al-Akhbar they expect the unemployment rate to rise to 55 percent, due to the widespread destruction and the slow work at the crossings.

Maher al-Tabba’a, a Palestinian economic expert, urged awareness of the goods that the occupation continues to ban.

“Previously some (goods) were seized and destroyed under the pretext that they did not meet Israeli criteria, causing huge losses for Palestinian merchants,” he said.

In an interview with Al-Akhbar, Tabba’a called on Palestinian negotiators to insist on “abolishing the list of materials barred from entering Gaza under the pretext that they are of dual use, and covers over 100 types of goods.”

He said the Netherlands already funded a scanner to be sent to the Karm Abu Salem crossing to accelerate the work flow and to allow goods to pass through in containers. He also called to allow heavy and construction materials into the Strip at once, in addition to electronics that need a lot of time to get necessary authorization.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Someone should tell Anonymous (above, with the comment about "Mabruk") that his sit-com has been cancelled, sorry.

There was no deal for anything. Just talks. Hamas surrendered on its demands and is now trying to get back to 2012. That's why Israel kept them in power. Let Hamas govern that hellhole they have destroyed. Better than Israel. Netanyahu outsmarted them.

Hamas achieved nothing as usual. Let them beg all they want. They surrendered , not because they are good people, but because their leaders kept getting killed. Their towers flattened. They lost their nerve. Now they will pay the consequences for years.

Mabruk!

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