As tumultuous times in the Middle East continue, President Obama will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Monday to talk about a range of issues including Israel’s growing contention with Iran and its ability to defend itself as a state if Arab regimes continue to act aggressively. No area is more volatile than the Rafah Border Crossing. This site is the only crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, making it a highly contested area.
The Rafah Border Crossing was previously regulated by Israeli military forces but power was handed over to Palestinian authority as part of an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Shortly after power was turned over to Palestine, a European Union commission began observing the area due to Israeli security issues. On the Egyptian front the border is monitored by border guards whom are permitted by an agreement between Egypt and Israel.
The location has always been an area of political unease, going back to 2008. In early 2008, Hamas gunmen detonated an explosion destroying part of the Israeli Gaza Strip which allowed an estimated 200,000 Palestinians access to Egypt to buy necessary goods.
Weeks after the attack, the crossing point was closed by Egyptian officials with the exception of Palestinians returning from Egypt. Chaos had settled until recently — in July —when Islamist attacked security forces directly after the fall of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. This was followed by an attack on Egyptian buses which left several Egyptian policemen dead and forced Egyptian authority to announce the indefinite closure of the Rafah Border Crossing.
You may be asking yourself, other than political unrest, why does this area matter?
Palestine views this crossing point as essential to its citizens since the other areas are adjacent to Israel and are monitored by their security forces. The biggest issue for Egyptian officials is the lack of legal protocol for regulating the Rafah Crossing Point. With the absence of a legitimate agreement, Egypt’s commitment to opening the border is based purely on humanitarian principles.
Although Egypt supports a Palestinian resistance movement and their opposition to Israel, they consider Hamas as fractionalizing the overall resistance efforts. As a result, Egyptian officials consider Hamas’ occupation of the Gaza Strip by force as unlawful which jeopardizes Egypt’s desire to keep the Rafah border open for Palestinian citizens. This has caused two different Palestinian platforms on the subject of Israel: Hamas is aligned with Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria, which support an armed resistance, while the Palestinian Authority is aligned with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, which seek to develop diplomatic relations that will lead to a peaceful two-state resolution.
Consequently, a complex tunnel system has been created surrounding the Rafah Crossing Point. Crime networks, not associated with Hamas, have formed and caused issues with the borderland. Considering their respective positions, Egypt and Palestine will have to work diligently in order to deal with the crossing point effectively. Crucial issues that must be assessed include: developing a legitimate agreement, dealing with protocol, combating crime networks, and creating secure borders.
If these issues are dealt with in an effective manner it may serve as an example of diplomatic success in the Gaza Strip.