Israel Relents on Kerem Shalom Crossing

Israel has dropped the idea of using the new Kerem Shalom terminal as a temporary crossing point for travelers to and from the Gaza Strip after the Palestinians refused to operate it, a Palestinian source told Haaretz yesterday.

If Israel does not harden its stance, this will represent a Palestinian achievement in somehow modifying Israel's dictates in respect to its unilateral disengagement.

Since Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have still not finalized the border arrangements at the Rafah crossing, Israel has agreed that today, and for the rest of the week at most, the Egyptians and Palestinians will open the Rafah crossing for "humanitarian cases."

This will be the third time since September 12, when Israel closed the Rafah crossing, that it will operate for "special cases," without Israeli presence, but with Israeli agreement. The crossing opened for one day on September 23 and for seven hours on October 11 for sick people, students, pilgrims to Mecca and people who were stuck in Egypt. Although several thousand people meet these criteria, some 1.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip are imprisoned there, and have been disconnected from the rest of the world for five weeks.

Although Israel has ostensibly announced that it no longer controls Gaza, effectively it still remains occupied because Israel has kept control of all the land, water and air passages to and from the Gaza Strip, and continues to control the Palestinians' freedom of movement.

Saeb Erekat, who discussed the border arrangements on Friday with Vice Premier Shimon Peres, said the foreseen solution is similar to the Palestinians' original proposal regarding Rafah: the passage of people and the exit of goods through Rafah, and the entry of goods through Kerem Shalom. The Rafah crossing will be operated by the Egyptians and Palestinians, and supervised by international observers.

Israel's agreement to open the Rafah crossing to "humanitarian cases" was given yesterday, as a Supreme Court petition submitted by HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual and a Gaza resident who must urgently donate a kidney for his brother living in Egypt is pending discussion. The petition was to have been discussed today but a state representative said the discussion would not be held because the state would allow the petitioner to "pass through Rafah in the next few days," and that by October 31 the rest of the instruction regarding the Rafah crossing would be given.

The Erez crossing has continued to be closed to Palestinians for the past two and a half months. Exceptions are Palestinian ministers and a few VIPs, diplomats, Palestinian investors with connections to Israeli firms, and four or five gravely ill people who pass through each day. Dozens of ill people in need of regular treatment have been denied passage, including 16 children with cancer, or patients who need tests that cannot be performed in Gaza. The Erez closure effects the possibility of any regular contact between Gaza and the West Bank.

Educational institutions, governmental offices, medical institutions and families have been totally cut off since August 2005. No change in this policy is foreseen.