The wording of the short agreement on the Rafah crossing signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority could drive one crazy: Why was it not possible to reach this agreement directly with the Palestinians, and why did it take weeks and weeks? As usual, the short answer is that disagreements over "security arrangements" stood in the way. However, if this were the real answer, then the agreement should be revised immediately, because the agreement gives the Palestinians the last word in determining who may or may not enter the Gaza Strip.
The exact wording of the agreement reminds one of a bad script for a stand-up comic. For example, the PA will inform Israel 48 hours in advance of the anticipated arrival of a special visitor - that is, someone Israel might not be particularly excited about welcoming: "diplomats, foreign investors, foreign representatives of recognized international organizations and humanitarian cases." Israel is obligated to "respond within 24 hours with any objections," and the PA is to make its decision during the remaining 24 hours. The Palestinians are required to "include the reasons for their decision," but even if the reasons were weak, this would not overturn the decision.
The PA is also obligated to consult with Israel on other "persons of concern" - for example, Hamas leaders Khaled Meshal and Mussa Abu Marzuk, or the leader of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Abdallah Shallah. This is no more than an official consultation that "will not take more than six hours." And, again, the last word belongs to the Palestinian Authority.
If this is the nature of the agreement, what was the dispute over the video cameras all about? (Israel insisted on receiving the pictures in real time, while the PA wanted to delay the video relay by a day so it would not appear to be subordinate to Israel's directives.) After all, Israel now has agreed to give the PA the right to decide. Moreover, Israel has never needed any video footage to know where wanted men are in Gaza and when to liquidate them. So why does Israel's security suddenly depend on these pictures?
Now we come to the long answer to why the agreement took so much time. It is not a border crossing agreement and is not the result of a battle over security arrangements: It is an agreement designed to save face. This applies to both sides, but mainly to Israel, which faced the prospect of losing the battle and then having to eat humble pie. But if the agreement aims to save the sides' honor, it is difficult to understand on what this honor is based.
The agreement itself gives no reason for one seeking honor to feel particularly satisfied, and the two sides will ultimately need to show deference to a European arbitrator.
There are those who believe that Israel will yet exact a heavy price from the Palestinians for its trampled honor - more busy work for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. One can agree with this forecast, but it will be difficult to tell when Israel is exacting a price for its honor and when it is just part of the routine. So this might also lessen the satisfaction.
It is harder to understand the "historic" excitement over this agreement. After all, relations between Israel and the Palestinians have seen much better days: the airport was operating, goods and people moved back and forth without problems, and merchants on both sides acted as if unaware of any border. So there is no great history being made here. Neither is there a rosy horizon. According to the agreement, Israel and the U.S. - without the Palestinians - will make a list of the obstacles facing the Palestinians and to what extent they can be reduced. A seaport has not yet been built, and it is also conditional on many discussions. As to the airport, the agreement states: "The parties agree on the importance of the airport. Discussions will continue [!] on the issues of security arrangements, construction and operation." As if these discussions have already begun. Interesting wording, zero results.
The intention here is not to criticize the agreement or demand its abrogation, but just to reassure: When matters of honor stand in the center of an agreement, there is still hope for a real process because even security is ready to pay homage to honor. And that is what is novel in the agreement.
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