A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Rafah Crossing and Egyptian-Israeli Relations

Egypt's decision to reopen the Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza has been sharply criticized in Israel, which fears increased arms smuggling, but welcomed throughout the Arab world and most of Europe, as well as quite popular home. What many Egyptians saw as Egyptian state complicity in the blockade of Gaza and its resultant humanitarian consequences is now lifted.

Egypt has indicated that it will abide by its peace treaty with Israel, and despite some sensationalist speculation to the contrary, there isn't real much prospect of its not doing so. But the tone of the relationszhip is clearly cooler, with Egypt more willing to deal with Hamas and criticize Israel. Israel's favorite Egyprtian interlocutor, ‘Omar Suleiman, (who was also a determined foe of Hamas) is no longer in the picture.  Gaza and Egypt have historic ties (Egypt occupied it 1948-67, and there are many historic links with Sinai) and the siege has been terribly unpopular. The peace treaty envisioned open borders, not closed ones.

At the same time, Israel has legitimate concerns about continuing rocket attacks from Gaza and the dangers of an open Egyptian border; overall Israeli discomfort with the changes in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world will be heightened by the opening of Rafah. Generally, though, an improvement of the conditions of life in Gaza could eventually strengthen peace prospects by weakening Hamas' grip.

No comments: