Israel, Egypt, PA and Quartet Discuss Alternatives to Gaza Blockade

Talks on easing the blockade were accelerated by the diplomatic entanglement caused by Israel's takeover of the Gaza aid flotilla.

Israel, Egypt, the international Quartet of Mideast mediators and the Palestinian Authority have held talks in recent days to try to open further crossings into the Gaza Strip. This regime would supplant the current blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt.

Humanitarian aid in Gaza - AP - June 6, 2010

Israeli security forces say that the new agreement would have to include the partial opening of at least one more cargo crossing. For the first time in two years, stationing PA policemen at the crossing is being seriously considered.

Talks on easing the blockade began before the diplomatic entanglement caused by Israel's takeover last week of a humanitarian aid flotilla, but the process has accelerated since. U.S. President Barack Obama said earlier this week that the status quo in Gaza is unsustainable. Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing last week after the flotilla debacle, but it is not yet clear if this measure is permanent.

The talks are being conducted via several channels, but it is not clear if any understandings reached between the sides will come in written form. Hamas is also involved in some of the talks via discreet channels with the United Nations and Europe, despite Quartet demands on Hamas' regime in Gaza.

International inspectors at the cargo crossings are being discussed, including forces from the UN, European Union or even the United States. Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah politician, told Egyptian intelligence chief Omer Suleiman in Cairo last week that the PA hopes to reopen the Rafah crossing according to the agreement reached in late 2005 with then-U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Until the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, the crossing was operated by EU inspectors whose performance Israel sharply criticized. The PA's Presidential Guard also operated on the Palestinian side of the crossing and Egyptian forces policed the Egyptian side.

Under that agreement, Israel had cameras at the crossing that broadcast real-time images to the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into the Gaza Strip. The cameras proved inefficient and did not allow Israel to regulate suspicious goods and people entering Gaza; Israel described the international inspection effort as a failure.

Stationing Presidential Guards at Rafah is again being examined, but Hamas opposes this as well as the option of Israeli cameras. Palestinian and Israeli liaison personnel met Monday to discuss bringing additional goods into Gaza and opening another cargo crossing.

The Coordination of Operations in the Territories office reiterated that the easing of cargo restrictions on Gaza was decided on before the flotilla crisis.