The initial terms of the Rafah border opening include:
- restrictions on men under 40, who will require Egyptian visas;
- no commercial use.
These two restrictions both constitute victories for Israel, discriminating against the politically active and allowing Israel to continue its collective punishment of the population through economic warfare. So the devil in the details shows its ugly head. A small step toward justice for Gaza has occurred and can be expected to lead to more significant consequences, but Gaza remains buried deep in winter’s freeze as the rest of the Arab world emerges into springtime.
The retarded political process in Gaza and the rest of Palestine will of course have consequences, as the rapid political dynamics in Egypt clash with the glacial pace of Palestinian developments. The recent peaceful Arab march on Palestinian-Israeli borders and resultant Mubarak-like, or Assad-like or Saleh-like response by Israeli troops (murdering protesters who were mostly peaceful with some stone throwing and in any case not even on Israeli soil) is an early indication of the kind of troubles likely to flow from the contradiction between rapid political growth in Egypt and slow growth in Palestine. The Mideast constitutes a political system, and that system contains a considerable degree of flexibility, incorporating a U.S. invasion of Iraq, a movement by Turkey toward the center, an internal revolution in Egypt that remains mostly peaceful, and even a harsh but differentiated Saudi counterrevolutionary reaction including both vicious repression and multi-billion dollar aid packages. While in some ways integrated, Israel by and large seems intent on destroying that system; intentional or not, its movement in a unique direction is putting a dangerous degree of strain on the whole system.
In an attempt to hasten the thaw, a European humanitarian flotilla plans to sail for Gaza at the end of June. Down the road but already spurring change, in the aftermath of their recent Egyptian-sponsored announcement of agreement to unify, Fatah and Hamas are negotiating how to work together and planning a Palestinian election for next year.
But even this incremental and peaceful movement in the Arab world is widening the divide with Israel. Illustrating the degree of denial in Israel, the ultra-nationalist opposition party Kadima has accused the ultra-nationalist Netanyahu regime of allowing a failure that endangers Israeli security by not preventing Egypt from opening Rafah, noting correctly but without drawing the logical conclusions about the short-sightedness of Israel’s expansionist and repressive policy, that “Hamas is gaining power.” The competition among Israeli extremist factions to seize the low ground of extremist leadership risks intensified radicalization of Israeli politics.