Elliott Abrams

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Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Egypt Opens To Gaza

by Elliott Abrams
July 23, 2012

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (R) meets with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at the presidential palace in Cairo, July 19, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh) Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (R) meets with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at the presidential palace in Cairo, July 19, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

From the moment when Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 while the West Bank remained under the control of the Fatah Party and the Palestinian Authority, the question of Gaza’s relationship to Egypt has been open.

Gaza was under Egyptian control from 1948 to 1967, under Israeli control from 1967 to 2005, and under PA control from 2005 to 2007. After the Hamas coup in June 2007, Egypt under Mubarak largely retained the border controls that Israel had put in place. Mubarak viewed Hamas with suspicion, as a radical group that was part of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Perhaps more surprisingly, Egypt’s new government, itself dominated by the MB, has continued those controls.

But that will change. Egypt’s new MB president, Mohammed Morsi, met in Cairo last week with the Hamas leader Khaled Meshal (and will meet soon with the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh). According to the Hamas spokesman, Gaza will soon be connected to the Egyptian electricity grid and natural gas pipeline.  This means its economy will be tied to Egypt, not Israel—its current energy supplier.

The ability of Gazans to travel to Egypt is also being broadened. Some press reports state that “Egyptian officials announced Monday that Palestinians will no longer need visas to enter the country, ending part of a five-year blockade on the Gaza Strip …. Gazans will now be able to leave the coastal enclave freely. The decision also applies to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Officials at Cairo’s airport said they have received instructions to allow Palestinians of all ages to enter Egypt without any procedural impediments. Deportation rulings for Gazans in Egypt were also canceled.” Other reports suggest that “Cairo will facilitate the entry of Palestinians to Egypt, but will not entirely remove regulations.” At the very least, more Gazans will travel more easily to Egypt.

As an editorial in The National, the English language newspaper in Abu Dhabi, notes, these are significant developments that may forever change the Gaza-Egypt relationship. Here are excerpts from the editorial:

Mr Meshaal hailed a “new era” in Egyptian-Palestinian relations, and there were signals at least of a welcome change. For many years, and certainly since the start of the crippling Israeli siege of Gaza in 2006, Egypt has played a shameful role as an accomplice to the blockade of Gaza.

Already the Morsi era is changing that. The crossing at Rafah now allows more Palestinians through each day, and may soon be open 24 hours a day.

But a new era in relations will bring its own challenges ….  if Egypt opens the border, it is likely that Gaza will continue to draw closer to Egypt, with more business and personal links created. There is nothing wrong with stronger ties with Egypt, but Gazans’ compatriots are in the West Bank, not over the border in Sinai.

As that last line implies, an opening of the border and a reliance on Egypt for energy will cut ties between Gaza and Israel and closely connect Gaza to Egypt while the West Bank faces Jordan. In the short run the impact may be small, but over the years it seems likely that Gaza and the West Bank will grow further and further apart.

Post a Comment 10 Comments

  • Posted by Orange Hors D'oeuvres

    My first reaction to Sharon’s disengagement was tactical praise- he showed the world what could happen if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank under a two-state arrangement. The PA would eventually disintegrate and Hamas would come to power. But the world doesn’t really care- it wants this to go away.

    The selfishness of disregarding a human chain from Gaza to Jerusalem (there were blue and white ribbons, too) to distract from Arik’s own political scandals may have metastasized into Israel’s Achilles’ heel.

    The blockade, it seems, is effectively over. Gaza and the West Bank will grow closer together if Gaza attains the capability to arm missiles with Iranian or Pakistani warheads, adding Hamas to Iran’s delivery options, in addition to Hezbollah.

    The true weakness, it must be said, in spite of the democratic argument I make against Sharon’s dastardly decision, is a representative system that enables such behavior. Sharon, acting in his own self-interest at the end of his career, betrayed the people, exactly what he was empowered to do.

  • Posted by neville craig

    You refer to the ‘Hamas coup in June 2007′.
    I recall that it was an election, as USFP interference requires.

    The march of Islamism and the new Brotherhood continues.
    I remember their march to King Hussein Bridge in July 1990.
    In those days they were reasonable, mostly professional men.

    Just look what State and US misrepresentation has done since.
    J-Street last week suggested that Foggy Bottom ‘has grown up’ in regard to Syria. Perhaps the fog has cleared, but little else.

  • Posted by Yuval

    Neville, unfortunately you misrecall.
    The elections were early in 2006 and took place in both the Strip and the West Bank.
    How many “elections” do you recall which ended up in 120 bodies?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Gaza_(2007)

  • Posted by Garrard Glenn

    In the years to come, Egypt may offer Gaza the chance to become a part of Egypt, a sort of Egyptian Hong Kong.

    If that happens, it will put Egypt in a better position to mediate a deal between the West Bank Palestinians, and Israel.
    That would enhance Egypt’s reputation, and take a good deal of wind out of the Iranian sails, which would suit just
    about everybody. Including Sunni-dominated Syria.

    Maybe even the Middle East can enjoy an uptick…let’s see.

  • Posted by Rick_roll

    If the Egyptians want the Gazans they can have them.

  • Posted by David

    Tight control by pre-revolutionary Egypt over the Gaza Strip border was an unstated condition for Israel’s willingness to withdraw the IDF, several years ago.

    The new Egyptian regime’s easing of border controls on Gaza will NOT result in Gaza’s falling under Egypt’s domination. Just the opposite: the inevitable smuggling of new and better weapons into the hands of Gaza paramilitary forces will force Israel [reluctantly] to overpower Hamas and re-occupy the Strip.

  • Posted by Tal Flaw

    David,

    The robust command of your psalm is Abrams-esque.

    I completely agree with your comment, but would Israel have the chutzpah (or resources) to annihilate and secure Lebanon (Eretz Yisrael HaShlema), which legitimizes the Army of Allah in its Parliament, in the next two years, if the British timeline for Iranian weaponization is to be trusted?

    Doing so would avoid the improbable outcome of a tiny nation of six/seven million attacking one of 75, one with powerful friends in Russia and China, sure to surprise further American encroachment in the region, somehow, and Syria, less strident but which pledged last fall to attack Tel Aviv in the event of a strike on Iran, possibly the only way to unite a splintering country and restore legitimacy to Assad in the eyes of his people.

    If only the Tartan Army (Haredim) were available.

  • Posted by Lon W.

    The “endgame” for the MB is unified governments. This is just a step in that regard. My concern would not necessarily be weapons in Gaza because that is already evidenced. Having the entire length of the Sinai/Israel border to commit crime is what I see being a grave concern to the war planners.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Dropping the passport requirement essentially gives free passage back and forth between Egypt and the Palestinian territories for Hamas terrorists . The Muslim Brotherhood knows exactly what it’s doing … and it doesn’t bode well for Israel .

  • Posted by diana

    it bodes very well for Israel. Let the Egyptians and the MB control that nest of vipers thast has seen more violence over the centuries that any other country in the region. Israel can defend itself very well from Gazans. Let Egypt give them electricity, gas, etc. Menawhile they are separated from the West Bank, who is not particularly loving to the Gazans…………..If the Gazans continue being a nuissance Israel can take care of them in easier terms than before. The interesting idea would be to cede parts of the W. Bank to Jordan and see what happens…….

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