Tuesday, November 15, 2005

DEBKAfile - Rice Secures Rafah Package Stripped of Adequate Counter-Terror Safeguards

The White House ordered Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to stay over in Jerusalem until the deal for the Gaza Strip’s international crossings was in the bag. She was almost there – “an accord is within sight” – Monday, Nov. 14. But she delayed her departure to join President Bush in South Korea until it was settled down to the last detail at issue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The breakthrough was announced after she met defense minister Shaul Mofaz Tuesday morning. It was achieved after Israel backed down from virtually all its demands for security safeguards against terrorist incursions.

DEBKAfile’s political sources analyze some of the agreement’s salient features.

The Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt will reopen on November 25 as a Palestinian-Egyptian facility with a European presence. Video images will be transferred to a control center at the Kerem Shalom crossing which is on Israeli soil. It will be manned by Israelis and Palestinians with a European presence.

Israel will not be entitled to demand that suspected terrorists be kept out or detained. The Palestinians will only be required to report on the arrivals of VIPs, diplomats and humanitarian cases – no one else. Mofaz lauded this as “another stage in Egypt’s involvement.” He made no reference to the failure of Egyptian border police’s failure to secure the Philadelphi border enclave against the massive smuggling of arms and terrorists since the withdrawal of Israeli troops.

As for the crossings from Gaza into Israel, Israel surrendered the prerogative to shut down them down to secure personnel against terror alerts, although these facilities are notoriously prime terrorist targets. Jerusalem has undertaken to first notify the US embassy in Tel Aviv and back up its “request” with specific information, thus parting with its intelligence secrets. It must then wait for permission from Washington – or its refusal - to the closure.

Effective preventive action may well be held up by this delay.

By surrendering this point, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon relinquished a key element of Israel’s sovereign right to self-defense and agreed to hamstring its own army’s freedom to combat terror. The presence of Palestinian customs inspectors at Kerem Shalom makes an additional inroad on Israeli sovereignty.

From Dec. 15 to January 15, “secured Palestinian convoys” will start rolling across southern Israel from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. The Palestinians want their own forces to secure the trucks. All that has been settled is that the Americans and Europeans will determine the procedures for their passage through Israeli territory.

There is no sign of the Sharon government standing up to Washington’s demands on that point either, so it is more than likely that Palestinian “forces” will be let loose on a wide swathe of southern Israel to escort 150 trucks a day bound for Hebron, Ramallah, Jenin and Nablus.

The provisions for the Rafah crossing will also be applied to Gaza’s deep sea port construction of which begins without delay. Israel has therefore forfeited control and oversight over incoming goods and people to Gaza by sea as well as overland.

DEBKAfile - Rice Secures Rafah Package Stripped of Adequate Counter-Terror Safeguards


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