Transferring control of the Gaza border crossings from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority has impressed Israel about as much as last year’s snow. Israel considers this significant strategic development – which is an outcome of the recent reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas – a negligible event when compared to its own military achievement in blowing up an attack tunnel from Gaza into Israel last Sunday. There is a profound gap between the diplomatic significance of the reconciliation and an event that, with all due respect to its importance, is tactical and doesn’t change the extent of the threat against the Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian reconciliation is the result of ongoing talks between Egypt, Hamas, the PA, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As such, it is an integral part of the Arab effort to cut Hamas off from Iran and to advance the peace process. It’s still too early for congratulations, but if the transfer of control over the crossings attests to the seriousness of the parties’ intentions about reconciliation, it obliges Israel to revisit its policy in the territories – and especially to recognize that the relevance of its blockade of Gaza is diminishing.
In less than two weeks, the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is also set to resume regular operations, as they were before Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. This will end the Egyptian blockade, which served as the western part of a pincer grip on the Strip. Given these circumstances, when people and goods are able to cross relatively freely via Egypt, there is no longer any practical benefit in preserving the blockade on the eastern side of the border.
No less important is recognizing that the Palestinian national consensus government – whose members include representatives of Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions – is becoming the accepted leadership and representative of the entire Palestinian people, and the entity responsible for the ongoing administration of both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. While Israel can continue to cling to its “no partner” policy and reject any Palestinian entity that features Hamas, it will not be able to evade the necessity of cooperating with the agreed-on Palestinian government, even if only in terms of managing the residents’ daily lives.
A decade after the blockade was imposed, Palestinian reconciliation offers a new opportunity for Israel to update its policy toward the Palestinian leadership. Hamas is showing willingness to stop the rocket fire and fight rebel organizations in the Strip; Egypt, Israel’s partner in the war on terror, is extending a wary hand to Hamas; and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ bitter enemy, is ready to start a new relationship. Israel can and must join this initiative, lift the unnecessary blockade and recognize any Palestinian government that is established.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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