The Debate over Erez Crossing: a Palestinian Setup?

The Palestinian claim over the Erez crossing may turn out to be an attempt to set the '67 borders as a benchmark for any further Israeli withdrawal.

Abu-Mazen contends that Erez crossing and Nativ Ha'asara are both within the territory of the Gaza Strip, and therefore Israel is still to be considered an occupier in Gaza (Al-Kuds 9/2; Ha'aretz 9/3, 9/6, 9/13). Consequently, the Palestinians refuse to discuss the future of Erez crossing.

In principle, Israel's position is based upon agreements with the Palestinians, including the Aslo Accords. Therefore, some argue that "the Palestinians failed to do their homework, or believed that Israel would fail to do so." (Eldar, Ha'aretz, 9/13/2005).

Nevertheless, the Palestinian stance may be understood as a Setup. They are willing to lose the battle over Nativ Ha'asara in order to win the war over Gaza and the West Bank.

What is the Issue?

The Rhodes Agreement (1949) determined that Gaza's northern border would be at Nahal Shikma, where Nativ Ha'asara is situated.

However, a territorial agreement between Israel and Egypt (1/50) altered Gaza's borders. Israel received from Egypt the territory in the northern Gaza Strip, where Erez and Nativ Ha'asara are located, in return for territory in the south-east of the Strip. Consequently, Erez crossing and Nativ Ha'asara are now located outside the Gaza Strip, i.e. within Israel's territory.

The June 4th, 1967 lines were demarcated according to the 1950 agreement, which was reaffirmed in the Interim Agreement, which was signed by the Palestinians (Article XXXI: Final Clauses - Paragraph 13).

Why is this Important? Why Now?

The Palestinians are trying to diminish the achievements of the Disengagement Plan by:

  • Preventing international recognition of Israel ending occupation and responsibility vis-à-vis Gaza;
  • Obstructing further unilateral moves in the West Bank, in order to force Israel back to the negotiation table.

Israel does not request the UN for formal recognition of ending responsibility and occupation, for fear that the UN will decide against it, or set precedents that will thwart future moves in the West Bank.

It may seem that Israel can easily win the case over Erez crossing and Nativ Ha'asara. However, adopting this perspective might lead Israel into a Palestinian setup:

Allegedly, the Palestinians claim sovereignty over Nativ Ha'asara and Erez crossing, and are willing to bring the issue before the UN. In reality, they know this argument will probably fail.

However, the real goals of the Palestinians are:

  • Pulling Israel into the jurisdiction of the UN and its legal institutions, where the Palestinians have clear benefits;
  • Reinforcing the principle of withdrawal to the 1967 borders, thus creating a benchmark that is unfeasible in the West Bank;
  • Bringing the discussion regarding the end of occupation and responsibility over Gaza before the UN.

The Palestinians are willing to lose the battle over Nativ Ha'asara and Erez crossing in order to win the battle over Gaza and the West Bank.

Policy Options

In order to serve the purposes of the Disengagement Plan, Israel should avoid any international legal procedures that may entail discussion on the status of the June 4th, 1967 borders, or on the status of post-disengagement Gaza.

By bringing the question of the status of border in Nativ Ha'asara and Erez before an international tribunal, Israel might fall into the Palestinian setup. Therefore, even though Israel has good chances of winning this case, it is not advisable to approach an international tribunal on this issue.

Should Israel be forced to bring the case before an international tribunal, the jurisdiction of the tribunal must be limited to the demarcation of the border according to the Oslo Accords.

The Disengagement Plan does not aspire to end all territorial disputes with the Palestinians, which means that time is on Israel's side. Should the Palestinians refuse to open the Erez crossing, Israel should not necessarily object.