Economic Pressure to Secure Control

In today's reality, where Israel attacks the Strip and kills its children, one building contractor who suffered from the crossing's closure said that no one can really expect the Palestinian preventive security service to arrest and hand people over to Israel.

If Israeli fruit growers and marketers had not protested the closing of Karni Crossing last week, no one in Israel would have noted that this commercial crossing, the Gaza Strip's economic lifeline, had actually been shut down for three weeks.

If they had not protested, one might have thought that Karni Crossing was important only to Palestinians. Yet we see just how important it is to at least some Israelis. Twenty percent of Israeli fruit produce is sold to Palestinian distributors.

With or without any connection to the protest, Karni was partially reopened last week, and the Gaza Strip was again flooded with fruit. However, as someone pointed out, "a donkey wouldn't eat them." No wonder; the fruit had sat for two days in shipping containers.

But Gazans were not waiting for Israeli fruit. There were waiting for more basic food staples that since the middle of March have been dwindling due to operating restrictions at Karni Crossing. They were waiting for rice, flour, sugar, animal feed, sesame, and raw materials for the food, construction and textile industries.

According to Palestinian sources, Israel's condition for the resumption of standard operations of the crossing was the arrest of five Palestinian suspects involved in the March 14 terror attack in Ashdod.

In today's reality, where Israel attacks the Strip and kills its children, one building contractor who suffered from the crossing's closure said that no one can really expect the Palestinian preventive security service to arrest and hand people over to Israel.

On Friday, according to these same Palestinian sources, the Israel Defense Forces caught the five suspects at Karni Crossing: two worked in goods transport and three others worked for preventive security service. Another suspect had already been caught by troops at Rafah Crossing.

On Sunday, Karni was reopened on a limited basis. Aluminum, for example, could pass through; iron could not. The crossing was also opened to some Palestinian merchandise, just textiles and eggs for now, leaving the Strip.

Israeli markets buy some 90 percent of Palestinian production. About 80 percent of the merchandise and raw materials imported into the Palestinian territories originate in Israel.

This is a dependency that has been in place since the conquest of the territories in 1967. During the Oslo years, economic agreements did not allow the Palestinians to reduce this dependency.

The closing of the border crossings causes a chain reaction of economic damage within just days. Since the middle of March, when Karni was operating only on a partial basis, there was an immediate drop in both the private and public construction sectors until they were completely paralyzed due to a lack of gravel, cement and iron. Food and drink factories went on strike, meaning thousands of workers were left without income. The impact was immediately felt by a drop in consumer traffic in stores and the cancelation of bank credit lines.

Despite this chain reaction of damage, Palestinian manufacturing and trade organizations decided to strike Karni Crossing starting May 11. Israel's condition for allowing the crossing to operate since the middle of March was that traffic could pass through one direction only: from Israel into Gaza. The implication being that Palestinian products would not be able to leave the Strip.

When you are dealing with "stable" products such as furniture and rugs, no big deal. One can wait. But when you are dealing with things like vegetables, ice cream and summer fashions, this is a death sentence to the products and a mass financial loss to manufacturers. Such hardships also deepen social tensions between contractors and building site owners and among transporters, merchants and manufacturers.

Prior to the crossing's opening, the IDF Spokesman said last week that, "Palestinian security figures have not done enough to prevent the use of the crossing by terror organizations in order to carry out terror attacks," and therefore, it was necessary to change security rules there.

But yesterday, there was a report of a Border Police officer, a resident of a Gush Katif settlement, suspected of selling ammunition to Palestinians. The suspect was tracked and breeches were examined. But no one determined that "Israeli security figures are not doing enough to prevent the use of the crossing by criminal elements to gain access to the Border Police and Gush Katif residents."

The Karni Crossing is too important to the Gaza economy for Palestinian security figures to disparage the security requirements for its operation.

The transfer of the container containing those who carried out the Ashdod terror attack was both an Israeli and Palestinian security debacle. This was not unlike the incidents in which 11 IDF soldiers were killed in Zeitoun and Rafah not just by Palestinian bombs but also due to the massive amount of explosive charges being transported in the armored personnel carriers themselves.

Israeli security forces blurred the traces of their responsibility for these events by embarking on a campaign of revenge that involved death, destruction and harm to the economy.

Israeli authorities are well aware of the Palestinians' economic dependency on Israel; they created this dependency themselves. This is a dependency that allows them to exercise economic pressure in order to secure political-security control. (During the Oslo period this was employed more frequently.)

By utilizing a method of applying pressure disguised by standard security explanations, Israeli authorities cause a further deterioration of the Palestinian economy.

It is worth remembering this Israeli skill. If and when the Gaza disengagement plan is ever implemented, will they shut down economic life in Gaza as a political pressure tool so that the Palestinian leadership will agree to "bantustans" in the West Bank?