Should Israel Accept a Ceasefire at the Rafah Crossing?

Hamas is considering allowing Fatah to control the Rafah crossing in order to end the sanctions on Gaza. As Fatah's presence is subject to Israel's approval according to the Rafah Agreement, Israel should examine whether a ceasefire based on such an agreement is in its interest.
During the past week, contradictory messages have been reported concerning Hamas' readiness to discuss an initiative by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to end the sanctions on Gaza by stationing Fatah security forces at the border crossings. According to reports, discussions have taken place between international and local actors to exert pressure on Israel to agree to this initiative (Ma'an, 12/27/07).

Due to the Rafah Agreement, any decision to reestablish Fatah's control over the border crossings depends on Israel's approval. This agreement aimed to regulate the entry and exit into Gaza following Israel's disengagement. Israel agreeing to Fatah forces along the border may lead to a ceasefire (Hudna or Tahdiah) between Hamas and Israel, as has lately been offered by the movement (Galatz, 12/19/07).

Israel needs to examine whether a ceasefire based on the presence of Fatah's security forces along the Gaza border presents the optimal conditions for a ceasefire with Hamas. In this context, there are several considerations which should guide Israel:

Between preventing the Qassams and Strengthening Hamas - So far, Israel has been unsuccessful in stopping the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel and preventing the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. In light of the recent declaration by leaders of Hamas, it appears Israel could reach an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. However, Israel has been avoiding such a scenario due to its fear that it would increase arms smuggling into Gaza.

Not wanting to regain control over the Philadelphi Route - The only way to significantly reduce weapons smuggling into Gaza involve either reoccupying the entire Gaza Strip or the Philadelphi corridor. However, Israel is not interested in renewing its control over the corridor and regaining responsibility for the Palestinian population in Gaza.

Achieving a Ceasefire without 'betraying' Abu Mazen - As opposed to a bilateral agreement between Israel and Hamas, the ceasefire framework proposed by the Ramallah Government and PM Fayyad does not bypass Abu Mazen's authority nor undermine his current political status.

The danger of a Humanitarian crisis - The boycott of the Gaza Strip which was tightened after Hamas took power, has led to a decline in the living standard of the Palestinian population. While Israel wants to exert pressure on Hamas, it does not want to create a humanitarian crisis. A ceasefire allowing the import of food and other goods into Gaza may prevent such a scenario.

No need for another long round of negotiations - The stationing of Fatah security forces in accordance with the framework of the Rafah Agreement might spare Israel another round of exhaustive negotiations with the Palestinians. Moreover, the agreement does not imply any negotiations with Hamas, an option Israel currently prefers.


Ma'an News agency, 12/27/07

Galatz, 12/19/07