Why Did Israel Agree to the Rafah Agreement?

We don’t know the full extent of the deal, but we are told it includes an airport, sea port, and buses and trucks to go overland between Gaza and the West Bank. We don’t know what rights Israel has retained to terminate the agreement, if any.

  Nov 17, 2005, 

The Rafah Agreement consisting of Agreed Documents on Movement and Access from and to Gaza: was signed on 15 November 2005.  It was part of the Disengagement.

What we don’t know for sure is whether Israel caved in or gave in or simply agreed. We don’t know the full extent of the deal, but we are told it includes an airport, sea port, and buses and trucks to go overland between Gaza and the West Bank. We don’t know what rights Israel has retained to terminate the agreement, if any.
Let’s take a worst case scenario. Terrorists, arms and ammunition will be significantly brought into Gaza. Some of them will find their way into the West Bank. Israel is building the fence, which offers some protection on the west side and no protection on the east side. Gaza, too, has been fenced off. This week, Israel has been using artillery to reply to rockets. However, the magnitude of the violence that will follow this agreement – and it will be significant – Israel can deal with, but at what cost? I don’t mean to minimize the new threat or to dismiss each and every casualty as acceptable, but I want to put it in perspective in relation to the power of the IDF. Having said that, this agreement rends asunder all Israel’s anti-terrorism planning. Israel is greatly weakened by it.

And what about Al-Qaeda? Al-Qaeda is growing in Sinai, Jordan and Gaza. How much of a threat are they? If you believe that they will win the war against the West, then they are a huge threat. On the other hand, if you believe that ultimately they will be defeated and destroyed, then it is only a threat in the short-run; and they are a threat to everyone. The list includes Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Europe and the US. But no doubt, this agreement makes it easier for them to hit Israel.

Israel knows that massive transfer is out of the question, as is continued occupation. It has to find a way to live with the Palestinians. The Roadmap is the process to get there. It was a very bitter pill to swallow. Israel has agreed, at worst, to the Saudi Peace Plan. It did so either because the benefits of normalization with the Arab world and Europe was worth the cost, or because it felt there was no other choice.

Similarly, signing the border agreement looks like total capitulation, but it may be that the hoped-for benefits were worth the risk. If not, Israel was given an offer it couldn’t refuse. Normalization is so coveted by Israel that the majority are prepared to forgo territory – and lots of it – and to assume risk and casualties to achieve it.

What is clear is that it was easier for Condoleezza Rice to push Israel than the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, I don’t believe she wanted to crush the PA. Instead, she wanted to give them a victory that would help Mahmoud Abbas in the upcoming election. The idea here is to continually build the institutions of democracy and the economy as the best way to work out of this hundred year war.

Israel does not have any alternative plan. Israel is taking a risk that this process can be successful, even if it means that Israel will end up with the pre-’67 borders with exchanges of land and the sharing of Jerusalem.

Since the Disengagement, the United Nations has been more hospitable to Israel, at least superficially, the Red Cross has invited Israel to join, although on lousy terms, various Muslim countries, including Pakistan, have made overtures to Israel, Saudi Arabia has agreed to lift the trade embargo, and other Arab countries will follow. Israel has improved relations with Egypt, Greece and Turkey. The list goes on. All this in three months.

Some will argue that they would rather Israel fight to get a better deal then to accept the Saudi deal. The price is just too exorbitant. Others argue that fighting to keep a few more kilometers is not worth the price in worldwide ostracism. Underlying this difference of opinion is the question of whether the Arab world will ever accept Israel. Of course, Israelis differ on this, too.

If Israel rejects the Saudi Peace Plan, it should get off the Roadmap immediately and tell the world to go to hell. On the other hand, if it believes that it is prepared to pay this price for full normalization, then it has to continue along this path.

I would have preferred that Israel hang tough on security, and it certainly tried to. But “Condi” couldn’t deliver on Israel’s terms and she wasn’t going to go away empty-handed. The lack of a deal would have ended the Roadmap. Israel, on the other hand, was not prepared to be the spoiler. They want the Palestinians to take the rap. So, they agreed to a deal that would in effect give the PA more rope, hopefully, to hang themselves – and not Israel. It reminds me of when Golda Meir decided not to preempt in 1973, to disastrous consequences. She, too, didn’t want to take the rap.

Both the suppression of the violence and the achievement of normalization are works in progress. We’ll have to see how it goes.

November 17, 2005 | Comments »

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