Hamas gains edge as border crisis eases
Palestinian militants and Egypt restored some order on the border Sunday, and Hamas gains leverage in negotiations.
Jerusalem and Egypt
The Gaza border crisis showed signs of easing Sunday. The militant Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the territory, encouraged Gazans to go home after hundreds of thousands had streamed across the Egyptian border in the past five days.Skip to next paragraph
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At the same time, Egypt tightened security in the border town of Rafah and began repairing the barriers, breached by Hamas, that separate it from the impoverished coastal strip of 1.5 million Palestinians.
But as the holes are patched, analysts say Hamas not only has broken out of its physical isolation, but is emerging with a stronger negotiating position on several fronts. "At this moment, Hamas is the only address for discussing the Egyptian-Gazan border regime. Hamas is also the only address for Israel right now to solve the practical problems of the open border. If this isn't a victory, I don't know what is," says Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Hebrew University.
He suggested two scenarios for the fallout of the border problem. One, which he sees as a positive, is that "it could encourage four-way negotiations [between Israel, Egypt, Hamas, and Fatah] which might result in practical solutions and accommodations. But, the downside, he says, is the "worsening of the relationship between Israel and Egypt, and disempowering [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] to even claim that he even speaks for Gaza."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr. Abbas met for more than two hours Sunday on the border issue, with Israel ultimately pledging to help ease the humanitarian situation in Gaza by resuming shipments of basic necessities such as fuel and electricity.
"The Gaza Strip events were a prominent part of the meeting, which was held in an atmosphere of joint cooperation. Both sides agree that the humanitarian aid and other supplies would continue to be serviced to the Gaza Strip," says David Baker, a spokesman for Mr. Olmert.
A precise solution to the question of how to close up the remaining holes in the wall, which expanded over the weekend as Palestinians drove bulldozers through the opening to flatten the area and allow more cars to go through, was not discussed, Mr. Baker says. That will be the focus of a meeting expected to be held Wednesday between Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Olmert said after meeting Abbas that Israel would continue to act against Hamas in Gaza, but would not allow a major humanitarian crisis to develop there.
His hand, however, was all but forced when, earlier Sunday, Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that, effective immediately, the fuel supply to the Gaza Strip must be restored. The decision was forced by the appeals of two Israeli human rights groups. The groups said that even the court's ruling to supply 2.2 million liters of fuel per week was a figure that still falls short of what Gazans need.