Nothing has changed

The agreement that was recently reached on the Gaza crossings, including the Rafah crossing, was a very significant event and can be seen as a model to be followed in trying to solve other components of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it should lead to an end to restrictions on the movement of goods and people, one of the most serious impediments to any economic recovery. Indeed, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have been rendered insignificant if it was not followed by such an agreement to allow for the free movement from the Gaza Strip to the outside world, the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and vice versa.

In this context, and although the Rafah component was the most visibly exciting part of the agreement, since it connects Gaza to the outside world and especially since it is the first opportunity for Palestinians to control a border of their own, the Karni component of the agreement might be economically more important in the short term.

The reason is that 38 years of Israeli occupation have left the Palestinian territory, and especially Gaza, heavily economically dependent on Israel: almost all of Gaza’s trade is with Israel rather than with Egypt or any other country. Thus the Karni crossing, where goods cross in and out of Gaza, is of vital importance, especially now with the beginning of the agricultural season as Palestinians start to export and market the first harvest cultivated in the greenhouses in the evacuated Israeli settlements.

But as the Rafah component of the agreement is being implemented, there are some concerns among Palestinians, as well the elements of the international community involved in this issue, over the timely and proper implementation of the Karni crossing component of the agreement, as well as the part of the agreement that should allow a convoy system to facilitate movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It is well to remember how important these components are to ensure that economic recovery can at least be attempted. Without this, all other efforts will be in vain.

Secondly, in addition to the economic, political and humanitarian importance of opening up Gaza, the way in which this deal was negotiated and concluded carries many lessons that can be applied to other aspects of the conflict.

The agreement was only made possible because of a systematic, active and balanced third party role. That role started with the efforts of James Wolfensohn and his team, representing the international community and committed to international law.

The EU then managed to bridge the gap in confidence between the two sides with its decision to take on the third party monitoring role. Both parties are confident that the EU can ensure that implementation of the agreement adheres to both the clauses of the agreement itself and international standards. Furthermore, the EU will also work to increase the capacity of the Palestinian side to deal with customs proceedings and border security protocol and supply the Palestinians with the necessary equipment.

Finally, the agreement was cemented after the direct and serious last minute intervention of high-level US officials, particularly Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Her determined involvement effected changes in positions of the parties that were necessary to sign the agreement.

At a time when there are positive changes taking place in the political landscape on both sides, the lessons learned from the Gaza crossings agreement should be considered a model for further agreements. A determined Quartet envoy, backed by active third party mediation ought to now stand a good chance of getting both sides to implement at least the first phase of the roadmap.