By Anisa Abd el Fattah
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
The opening of the Rafah crossing at the border of Egypt and Palestine creates some unique opportunities for both the Palestinians in Gaza, and the Egyptians living near the border. No one has yet offered a number to represent the amount of money that vendors in the Egyptian towns close to the border must have profited over these past few days. Even though it’s no secret that the Egyptian government is presently under extreme pressure from its own people to improve the economic situation in Egypt and to alleviate the deep and pervasive poverty suffered by many of its citizens, not a single pundit has sought to highlight the fact that keeping that crossing open not only helps the Palestinian people of Gaza, it also helps the Egyptian people.
While it might be true that opening the crossing alone is not enough to restore the ailing Gaza economy, which has been in a state of near collapse for months, the result of an inhumane embargo, arbitrarily placed upon Gaza by the US and Israel in response to what are purely internal Palestinian affairs, the opening represents, among other things, new economic opportunities and possibilities for the people on both sides. If the crossing is left open, that area will likely become one of the most prosperous Egyptian trade areas, perhaps similar to Port Said in Egypt.
What prevents us from even being able to discuss such possibilities, is the fact that a Palestinian election brought Hamas to power, which is an internal Palestinian matter, as is the split between Hamas and Fatah that occurred as a result of US and Israeli sabotage of the Palestinian political process that lead to an armed confrontation between Hamas and Fatah. With these two sordid interests controlling the dialogue on Rafah, its almost impossible for the two peoples, of Egypt and Palestine, to sort out their futures in a way that will be beneficial to everyone.
Rather than the international media focusing on how the opening of the crossing can be a financial boon for both peoples, taking a tremendous amount of pressure off of both, or all three governments, (Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank) they continue to focus only upon Israel’s supposed security concerns, and how power will be distributed between Egypt and Israel in respect to controlling the people of Gaza, while empowering Mahmoud Abbas. These are old and senseless concerns.
To continue to argue that Mahmoud Abbas is the legitimately elected President of the PA, and so has the sole right and authority to dictate to the people of Palestine, means nothing when one is also arguing that the duly elected legislature is illegitimate because the US, EU and Israel don’t like how the people voted in that instance. Like Mubarak of Egypt, Abbass’s government is not a popular government, even though the US and Israel has spent millions, if not billions to make it appear that it is, or should be. Now there is also news that Canada is training the PA security forces, perhaps in preparation for future confrontations with Hamas, which is a recipe for future disaster that is sure to destabilize not only Palestine, but also Egypt and the surrounding Muslim countries. The unwillingness of the so called “powers” in the region to recognize that the past is over, will create lots of problems.
Deliberations on Rafah crossing and what role it plays in improving the quality of life for the peoples of Gaza and Egypt, while ending US and Israeli interference in Palestinian economic and political affairs are potentially volatile, and no one should underestimate their significance in that respect.
It is increasingly difficult for Israel to fall back on its traditional Israeli security first argument, since the Palestinians of Gaza offered a long-term cease-fire to Israel, both prior to and after the Annapolis peace conference that Israel undermined. The Israeli Knesset voted against cease-fire, while simultaneously claiming to be a victim of Palestinian violence. In what it deemed retaliation, or self-defense for the launching of rockets, Israel was allowed to murder 20 innocent Palestinians, and the US stopped a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel’s murder of those people. The irony is that even as Israel was meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in the US at the Annapolis conference, Israeli troops were carrying out military raids in both the West Bank and Gaza, killing, kidnapping and wrongly detaining Palestinians with absolute impunity. Later, Israel announced to the world within days of that failed conference, that it would continue to illegally confiscate Palestinian land, and to build illegal settlements. In response, the US suggested that facts on the ground would not be negotiated. The same should, and must be true for the opening of the Rafah crossing, keeping in mind that it was not illegal to open the crossing, or to keep it open, while it is illegal to close it.
Egypt must decide if it will act for the benefit, and in the interest of its own people, as well as the Palestinians. Egypt must decide this, in spite of US and Israeli threats to end the nearly 2 billion dollars that Egypt receives from the US annually in foreign aid. A prudent Mubarak will realize that if he plays his cards right, he can garner the same returns and, perhaps, more by keeping the crossing open, yet controlled, while bolstering business and trade between Palestine and Egypt, and also perhaps regaining the respect of his own people, and the rest of the world.
The US media, while it reported the opening of Rafah Crossing as an exodus, it completely ignored the fact that Mubarak arrested hundreds of Egyptians who were protesting the illegal embargo against Gaza, and demanding that Egypt open the crossing. The US media has also ignored the fact that the sealing of that border was a criminal act of collective punishment that is sure at some point to become the subject of an International Criminal Court investigation.
As the legitimately elected representatives of the Palestinian people, and also the presently presiding authority in Gaza, Hamas should naturally control the Gazan side of that crossing. Egypt should refuse Israeli and US dictates to ignore Hamas and to deliberate the future of the crossing only with Fatah. It must also consider the exacerbation of the political strife between these two factions that will result, should Egypt decide to give the PA, and PA security sole authority over the crossing.
Mahmoud Abbas should be aware that he, and his Fatah party can easily fall into further complicity with the US and Israel in what is clearly a war crime against the people of Gaza should they attempt to reseal that border. Fatah should avoid possible prosecution by the International Court, and popular censure.
The world must restore international law in respect to this conflict, and end the historic and arbitrary cruelty to which the Palestinians, and especially the people of Gaza have been subjected for 60 years. Rafah Crossing should be left opened.
Palestine and Egypt should negotiate a border policy that encourages trade and commerce between the two peoples, while ensuring security for Egypt, Palestine and Israel. Israel and the US should end their interference in Palestinian internal affairs, and also their meddling in the affairs of the sovereign nation/states of the region.
Allowing the Gazan and Egyptian economies to get on their feet and to thrive is good, not only for Egypt and Gaza, but also for the entire region. Keeping the Rafah crossing open is sure to play a major role as a stimulus for these two economies.
Continued US and Israeli interference should be viewed by the international community as exactly what it is, an attempt to stave off economic development, and to keep these Arab people divided and at odds. People of conscience throughout the world, if we are sincere in wanting major reforms in the Arab and Muslim world, should prevent that from continuing to happen, and we must never again allow the people of Gaza to be sealed like prisoners in Gaza without food, medicines, medical care, and other life sustaining necessities. To do so, would be a criminal act bordering on genocide, and a war crime of collective punishment, which are gross violations of international law.
-Dr. Anisa Abd el Fattah is the President of the National Association of Muslim American Women, and is associated with the International Association for Muslim Women and Children, a UN accredited NGO with the UN Habitat conference, and the Division on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinians.