Rafah Policy May Reinstate the Occupation

Closure of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt may erode the effectiveness of the European observation force and renew Israel's responsibility over Gaza.

A document published in Ha'aretz newspaper this week indicates that Israel's security forces suggest closing the Rafah border crossing in order to induce the release of Gilad Shalit (Issacharoff, Ha'aretz, 8/30/06).

The Re'ut Institute contends that closing the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt may cause the collapse of the European border supervision mechanism and re-establish Israel's responsibility over Gaza.

What is the Issue?

Following the Disengagement (8/05), Israel was required to withdraw from the Philadelphi route and the Rafah crossing to support its claim that the Gaza Strip is no longer an occupied territory and that Israel is no longer responsible for it.

The "Agreement on Movement and Access" (11/05) was the first time that Israel waived its complete control over the external perimeter of the Palestinian Authority. The agreement transferred responsibility over security arrangements over the Rafah crossing to the EU Border Assistance Mission, Egypt and the PA.

Although smuggling of arms and goods to Gaza has substantially increased, the border crossing has become the principal supply vein of the Gaza Strip.

Since Hamas' victory, Israel has often closed the Rafah crossing, arguing that the Europeans observers cannot open it due to terror alerts.

However, since the abduction of Gilad Shalit, Israel has closed the border crossing in order to exert pressure on the Palestinians to release the kidnapped soldier (Ha'aretz, 8/30/06).

Why is this Important? Why Now?

Elements in the international community have criticized Israel's policy concerning the Rafah crossing, arguing that Israel is using collective punishment in order to pressure the Palestinians, contrary to promises it has given the US and Europe.

The ongoing breach of the Agreement on Movement and Access, for reasons that are not related to the prevention of terrorist activity, may bring about the dissolution of the EU Border Assistance Mission. In such case, Israel may face a new reality in which:

  • The external perimeter of the Gaza Strip is breached and unsupervised - In the absence of the European observers, Israel may have no means of supervising the Gaza-Egypt border;
  • Israel is once again responsible for Gaza - If the Rafah arrangement collapses, Israel may need to return to the Philadelphi route in order to prevent the smuggling of arms into Gaza. Such a move would undermine the achievements of the Disengagement and re-establish Israel's responsibility for the Palestinian population in Gaza.

Policy Options

The issue of the Rafah crossing may seem local and tactic.

However, it holds strategic and possibly existential ramifications for the state of Israel. The collapse of the Rafah arrangement would aggravate the security crisis in Gaza, and may even bring about the re-institution of the Israeli occupation in Gaza.

Several statements have been made recently regarding the possibility of applying the model of international intervention established in Lebanon to the Gaza Strip. However, if Israel is perceived as systematically violating international agreement (see Annan's statement on Israel's violation of Resolution 1701), the international community would be reluctant to take responsibility over Gaza.