Starting Nov. 25, Palestinians from the Gaza Strip may, in theory, be able to freely cross the Rafah border into Egypt, according to an agreement brokered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Typically, Israel wished to have the final say over the movement at the border crossing, not for the sake of preventing so-called "terror suspects" from entering Gaza, but rather to control the movement of goods in and out of the impoverished strip. This way, any unwarranted Palestinian economic growth (as a means of economic independence) will remain under constant Israeli surveillance. Moreover, Israel wants to ensure that the occupied territory remains its largest export destination. Naturally, Palestinians would prefer to break away from Israel’s economic hegemony and seek more reasonable trade partners, such as Egypt.
It was not exactly Secretary’s Rice’s "impeccable" diplomacy that struck the touted deal between the Palestinians and Israel, although her involvement might have helped speed the process. Both parties have actually been deliberating the matter for months, and an agreement, as repeatedly assured by various European diplomats, was in the making.
What’s noteworthy, however, is the turnaround in Israel’s position regarding its level of involvement in monitoring the supposedly liberated Gaza border. According to the new deal, Palestinians will control the border joined by EU monitors using video surveillance technology that is also accessible by Israel. Expectedly, Israel’s objection to Palestinian conduct at the border would have to be communicated to the parties involved, thus become subject to investigation and possible correction.
But even this bizarre arrangement sounds too great an Israeli concession, considering the approved text of Israel’s Disengagement Plan, which specifically guarantees Israeli control over Palestinian movement in the post-disengagement phase. This inescapably summons the following question: Is Israel’s shifting attitude towards Gaza revealing inconsistency in its policy, or is the Israeli "concession" a policy modification brought about by external pressure or by the tacit realization that suffocating Gaza is both unethical and impractical?
By any honest analysis of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza (honest enough to appreciate the Gaza move as part of the overall political milieu that keeps in mind the illegal separation wall, the complete and complex physical annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and the rapid Jewish settlement expansion throughout), the pullout from Gaza was intended as a distraction that would allow Israel to achieve its grand plan of destroying any prospect of a real sovereign Palestinian state. Interestingly enough, it was right-wing Israeli officials who revealed this deduction.
Israel, abated by the US administration and bankrupt media pundits, screamed that the Israeli pullout from the tiny stretch of Gaza (which Israel offered to give up many times in the past on the condition of being administered by a party other than the Palestinians themselves) put the onus on Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority. President George Bush declared a freeze in the peace process almost instantly after the completion of the pullout, per the request of Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Talks can only actualize, Bush suggested, when the PA proves capable of taming the chaotic Gaza; in other words, collecting the arms of Palestinian factions that oppose the Israeli occupation, which underhandedly suggests that Palestinians have no reason to continue with their resistance, now that the Israeli occupation has "ended".
The pro-Israeli chorus continued to chant the Israeli mantra, despite repeated Israeli army attacks on Gaza (not to mention the many bloody incursions into the West Bank). Their voices grew louder only when Palestinians fired back. They took no notice of the commendable commitment that most Palestinian factions exhibited towards the more or less one-sided ceasefire. Meanwhile, the less publicized section of the Israeli Disengagement Plan was fiercely actualizing on a massive scale in the West Bank as new settlement infrastructures were actively supplementing old ones. The Israeli separation wall was being built at incredible speed, confirming a nightmare scenario of Israel’s ultimate intentions, that of creating an apartheid-like regime in the West Bank. But even South African apartheid is no longer a parable for what is taking shape in Palestine.
Pulling out of Gaza was the smoke screen needed for Israel to disfigure the West Bank and ultimately abort any final solution that might resemble anything close to Palestinian aspirations: a state with definable borders with physical contiguity, economic prospects and East Jerusalem as a capital.
Israeli objectives were supported, explicitly and implicitly, by the Bush administration. The US backing for Israel has, as always, capturing the imagination of all aspiring politicians with great ambitions, one being US Senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton. Clinton, who ended a three-day tour to Israel on Nov. 14, declared her full support for Israel’s separation wall. She completely avoided any "pitfalls" caused by meeting with Palestinians " as suggested by The New York Times " such as acknowledging their rights as an oppressed indigenous population fighting for human rights and freedom. According to the Times, an Israeli official presented Clinton with a vest with the emblem of the Red Shield of David. "We hope that some day, it will be hanging on the walls of the Oval Office," he said as she appreciatively smiled.
It can be claimed that Israel had never acquired such categorical American espousal in its history as it has in recent months, distinctively following its disengagement from Gaza. The Gaza smokescreen allowed more US officials to auction their political integrity even more barefacedly now that Israel is decidedly on the side of peace and that Palestinians, no matter how hard they try, are essentially ill-intended and will always fall short of convincingly responding to Israel’s concessions and generosity.
Failing to understand this context is failing to fathom Israel’s yet newest "concession" in granting Palestinians the right to be present at their Gaza border. The Palestinian burden has now grown to an historic reach. Israel, on the other hand, will continue to reap the fruits of its Gaza maneuvering for years to come. Israel’s fantastic win-win strategy (that of giving nothing and attaining the moon) must not be disturbed by border quarrels, unneeded distractions that invite such unpleasant criticisms like that of James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, who suggested that Israel was acting as if it still occupied Gaza.
"Freeing" the Palestinians in Gaza was the needed confirmation of Israel’s good intentions. Although we are yet to observe the Gaza border agreement in practice, there is little historic precedent to conclude that Israel will respect the arrangement. Since the Israeli army has the "green light" to strike Gaza at any time of its choosing (as it has repeatedly since the disengagement) and to freely assassinate any Palestinian "terror suspect", it is difficult to convince ordinary Palestinians that they are truly free, even if the man checking their worthless travel documents at the Rafah border looks and sounds Palestinian.
In the last 12 years, numerous arrangements regarding Rafah border control were painstakingly reached and quickly violated. So much Palestinian blood, including that of Palestinian border security officers, was spilled at Rafah and thousands of Palestinians went hungry as they were denied exit while camping on the Egyptian side of the crossing for weeks. Knowing all this, and understanding Israel’s overall designs in the occupied territories, it becomes clear that the historic deal in Rafah is, at best, short-lived hype.
While some Palestinian farmers and small businesses may temporarily celebrate being able to export their oranges and import Egyptian knickknacks and candy, Israel will carry on slicing up the West Bank beyond recognition, beyond statehood.
RAMZY BAROUD, veteran Arab American journalist, teaches mass communication at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. His forthcoming book, "Writings on the Second Palestinian Uprising" is being published by Pluto Press in London. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of PalestineChronicle.com.