Israel Wants to Move the Rafah Crossing, World Bank Is Told

Under the disengagement plan, Israel seeks to move the Rafah crossing to the south, to the Israel-Egypt-Gaza Strip border point, according to a paper submitted to the World Bank by the National Security Council in response to the bank's report on the plan's ramifications for the Palestinian economy.

The Egyptians, whose consent is required for the move, have voiced their opposition, noting, among other reasons, the fact that they have invested some $6 million in constructing a new terminal at the Rafah crossing.

The Palestinians, for their part, have also informed the World Bank that they are vehemently opposed to moving the crossing.

A diplomatic source said that Israel wanted to maintain control over the crossing so as to continue to exact customs and taxes on the goods coming into the Gaza Strip.

Israeli sources said that security considerations were behind the desire to move the crossing.

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the terminal in its current location is part of an overall regional plan they have started to put together "in the spirit of the peace agreements."

The sources believe that under the disengagement plan, Israel wishes to undermine the validity of the international agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Agreement on the part of the donor countries to moving the border is tantamount to cancelling the agreements, the sources said.

From the proposal to move the border, the Palestinians deduce that Israel will not allow the re-opening of the Palestinian airport in Rafah.

Instead, Israel has expressed its willingness to discuss the possibility of a helicopter service, for businessmen, and to Amman, Jordan, only.

"The World Bank mistakenly agreed to discuss the building of a helipad with the Israelis," a Palestinian source told Haaretz.

At the same time, in the framework of the talks on the disengagement plan, Israel has rejected the World Bank's request to discuss the creation of a "territorial link" between Gaza and the West Bank, noting that the issue goes "beyond the scope" of the plan.

An Israeli source told Haaretz that moving the Rafah crossing was a necessity first and foremost for security reasons.

"Israel's true interest is to also clear the Philadelphi Route such that there is absolute freedom of movement between Egypt and the territory of the Palestinian Authority," the source said, adding that this was impossible as long as there was no guarantee that the evacuation would not lead to "massive traffic of new arms into the Palestinian territory."

Control of the route requires control over the crossing, and therefore consistent security for the Israeli workers there, the source said, adding that it was easier and more logical to secure a crossing at the three-way border point.

In addition, the Israeli source said, the Palestinians have an interest in Israel maintaining control over the movement of goods through the crossing.

In the event of the free movement of goods between Egypt and Gaza, the source continued, cheap and unsafe Egyptian merchandise will flood the Strip.

The Israeli source added that if this was the case, Israel would have to institute a customs control system at the Karni crossing or elsewhere - "in other words, to treat Gaza as a separate country, while maintaining the joint Israeli-Palestinian economic system in the West Bank in keeping with the Paris Accords."

The Israeli source accused the Palestinians and Egyptians of opposing the move without good cause. "It is better to preserve the sense of the victim and the hapless than to solve problems," he said.

According to a Palestinian source, under the cover of temporary security considerations, "Israel is prejudicing our general planning for the area and contracts signed with the donor countries. We have plans for a joint industrial zone with Egypt at the site, a free-trade zone, a railway line and train, and a gas pipeline from Egypt."