by Ali Abu Shahla
After Hamas took over absolute power in the Gaza Strip following a military clash with the Palestinian Authority and Fatah leaders on June 15, 2007, Israel imposed a total siege on the Gaza Strip and closed all its crossings into the Strip. It did not allow the introduction of goods except for humanitarian aid, basic food and some essential medicine.
As a direct result of the Israeli blockade, about 750,000 Gaza citizens invaded Egyptian territory through the Rafah crossing on the January 23, 2008, in order to get some basic commodities and other goods necessary for the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, which Israel denies entry to.
After this Palestinian incursion to the Egyptian territories, Israel agreed on a commercial basis to the introduction of some food and basic goods through the official crossings, but continued to prevent the introduction of many basic materials such as: building materials - raw materials - heavy equipment - spare parts for cars and equipment – and chemicals and other materials for industries. Israel has also considered the Gaza Strip to be a hostile entity, so it has reduced the number of traders and businessmen permits who enter Israeli territory in order to meet with their Israeli counterparts and to implement their commercial and business transactions.
The Marmara and its aftermath
On May 31, 2010 the Israeli Navy intercepted, in a military operation, the Turkish ship Marmara on its way to the port of Gaza in order to break the siege and to introduce some basic materials for the population of Gaza. The result of the operation was the deaths of 9 Turkish activists who were on board the ship. After this operation, Israel allowed the introduction of a new package of basic consumable goods that had been restricted from entering the Gaza Strip, and it allowed the introduction of construction materials needed for the construction of projects funded and managed by some international institutions operating in the region. However Israel continued to prevent the introduction of construction materials, equipment, spare parts and large cars for the private sector.
A change of Israeli and Egyptian policy
Last week, after more than 5 years of closure, Israel announced its intention to approve the introduction of some building materials and large cars in favor of the Palestinian private sector under certain control conditions, and that it would start the introduction of these materials on Sunday, December 30, 2012, through Kerem Shalom crossing, which became the only commercial crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip after the Israeli closure of all other crossings between the two sides.
On December 29, 2012, it was announced that Egypt had agreed to introduce the necessary building materials for projects financed directly from Qatar through the Rafah crossing, and not through Kerem Shalom, while in the past it had opposed that on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the crossings agreement signed between the Palestinian Authority and Israel on 2005, which was witnessed by both Egypt and the U.S. Egypt has already introduced fuel donated by Qatar for the Gaza power station through Kerem Shalom, and not through the Rafah crossing due to Israel's refusal!
The Egyptian decision to introduce construction materials needed for Qatari projects directly through the Rafah crossing was the result of the indirect negotiations currently taking place between Israel and Hamas as part of the terms of the armistice agreement between the two parties after the Israeli war on Gaza (between November 14-22, 2012). The Qatari aid to the Gaza Strip is significant from the economic point of view, since the value of the construction materials value is about 70% of the value of the Qatari aid amounting to $ 400 million.
Looking towards the future
I think that there will be a competition between Egypt and Israel regarding the supply of construction materials for the current Qatari projects, which will cost about $280 million, noting that both countries (Egypt and Israel) are facing economic deficits, and they need the money. This may be followed by other projects for the reconstruction of Gaza, which could amount to more than a billion dollars!
Does this mean that the introduction of construction materials from Egypt directly through the Rafah crossing modifies the AMA (Agreement on Movement and Access), and that Israel agrees that Rafah will be considered as a commercial crossing? Or is the Israeli acceptance of the opening of the Rafah crossing for construction materials needed for Qatari projects considered as the beginning of Israel's abandonment of its responsibilities for the Gaza Strip as was stated by many Israeli officials? Technically, does Israel agree that the Gaza Hamas government collects customs and taxes, especially VAT on materials and imported goods through the Rafah crossing?! Or will the opening of the Rafah crossing be only for the introduction of the necessary materials for Qatari projects?
The next few days will bring the answer to these questions.