New York – The ZOA has concerns that the deal brokered by the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) on reopening the Gaza-Egypt border crossing at Rafah, providing bus convoys for passage of Palestinians between Gaza and Judea and Samaria and opening a PA seaport at Gaza poses a serious security risk to Israel. Under the agreement reached, the Gaza-Egypt border will open tentatively on November 25, under the supervision of European monitors.
Israel had initially demanded veto powers over admission of people and goods, but in the end relinquished that demand. Under these arrangements, Israel will receive live transmissions via closed circuit TV from the Rafah crossing checkpoint and can raise objections concerning travelers, but the PA has the final say. The PA is obligated to consult Israel and the European monitors in these cases but retains the power of final decision as to which persons and goods enter Gaza (Wall Street Journal, November 15). Israel has also agreed to not interfere with operation of the [Gaza] port.
The chairman of Israels Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, said that Israel was pressured into opening up the crossings before we were ready; we gave in to pressure from the Americans. Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also told the Committee that the decision to grant the Palestinians a safe harbor in Gaza and a safe crossing from Gaza to the West Bank constitutes a danger to Israel …The result will be that plenty of weapons will find their way to Gaza, Kassam and mortar rockets will be transferred to Judea and Samaria and fired at Israel from the region (Jerusalem Newswire, November 15).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, We at ZOA are deeply concerned that this agreement endangers Israel. If Secretary Rice is serious about moving towards a real conciliation, her priority should not be opening up borders to Palestinians, which under present conditions can only increase the risk of terrorism to Israel, but working to ensure that the PA dismantle terrorist groups, jail terrorists, confiscate their weaponry, end incitement to hatred and murder in the Palestinian controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps and rename the streets, schools and sports teams named in honor of suicide bombers.
The ZOA has previously expressed concern that security for Israel would be weakened by handing over authority for the Gaza-Egypt border to the PA and Egypt and, as we have noted previously, there has been an influx of illegal weaponry and terrorists into Gaza from Egypt since Israel withdrew from Gaza.
Now, the crossing is to be reopened but Israel will have no power to stop terrorists or goods entering Gaza, even if it makes timely representations to the PA and European monitors, because the PA can simply choose to ignore it. Israel has pledged not to interfere with the operation of the Gaza seaport which means that weapons will be able to come in by sea to terrorist groups. Safe passage for Palestinians between Gaza and Judea and Samaria means that such weapons that enter Gaza might quickly be smuggled into Judea and Samaria.
This agreement is a reward to the PA despite it doing nothing to stop terrorism and as such sends the signal that its lack of compliance carries no penalty or consequences. A regime like the PA that permits terrorism rather than fighting it cannot be trusted with Israels security. We urge President Bush and Secretary Rice to monitor closely the implementation of the agreement and to hold it as a litmus test for the PA. If the PA permits terrorists and weaponry through, the deal should be terminated immediately and all negotiations and aid to the PA stopped forthwith.