In my column on January 30, I called on Washington and other capitals to "declare the experiment in Gazan self-rule a failure and press Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to help." This may sound like a lonely position, but, as I then documented on February 7, others agree:
Hamas partially concurs: One leader, Ismail Haniyeh, hopes Gaza can "move toward economic disengagement from the Israeli occupation," while another, Ahmad Youssef, wants the Gaza-Egypt border opened to trade and Egypt to serve as Gaza's "gateway" to the outside world. As Hamas promises that Cairo's re-closing the wall on Feb. 3 will not turn back the clock, Egypt's Muslim Brethren, a Hamas ally, demands the Gaza border be opened. … Some Israelis wish to help it. Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, for example, holds that Cairo should take over economically. "When Gaza is open to the other side we lose responsibility for it. So we want to disconnect from it. We want to stop supplying electricity to them, stop supplying them with water and medicine." The Israeli supreme court having ruled on Jan. 30 that the government may reduce supplies of fuel and electricity to Gaza renders a cutoff feasible.
This weblog shall keep an eye on others pulling in the same direction of linking Gaza to Egypt.
To begin with, I have just learned that the Israeli analyst Guy Bechor has been making the Gaza-to-Egypt argument for some time. See, for example, "Let Egypt into Gaza" published in June 2007.
According to Israeli officials paraphrased by Reuters today, since the fence went down on Jan. 23, Cairo "Egypt has discreetly boosted the number of troops deployed along the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, beyond those set in a 30-year-old peace accord with Israel." Up to 1,500 Egyptian border guards are now along the Egypt-Gaza border, double the agreed-upon level. To this the Israelis respond, "We don't see the current levels as a threat at the moment. We have not objected to it. But no long-term arrangement has been made."
Comment: The Egyptians have reaped the benefit of the Gaza breakout, now let them pay the price for it. (February 27, 2008)
Sep. 1, 2008 update: In a major analysis, "Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy," Moshe Ya'alon argues that
It would be an understatement to say that the hurried disengagement from the Gaza Strip was an unwise strategic move, but now that it has been done, it should be carried out to completion. The local Gazan population should be slowly weaned off its dependence on Israeli goods and services, and the Egyptian border should serve as Gaza's gateway to the world.
Nov. 9, 2008 update: According to officials in Israel's Ministry of Defense, Gaza is already partially weaned off of Israeli supplies and instead has become dependent on Egypt, writes Alex Fishman in "Defense officials: Economic pressure on Gaza becoming ineffective."
Gaza's residents are no longer dependant on Israeli diesel oil, as the fuel flows from Egypt to the Strip through pipes located under the Philadelphi route. This is another stage in Gaza's disengagement from its dependency on the State of Israel. …
Israel has so far transferred 120,000 liters of diesel oil into the Gaza Strip on a daily basis. In the recent days, however, the Hamas government conveyed a message to the Jewish state that it no longer plans to continue buying fuel for vehicles, at least not at the extent it used to purchase in the past. It turns out that 150,000 liters of diesel oil are poured into the Strip every day through pipes built in the tunnels under the Philadelphi route. Thus, Gazans are no longer dependant on the expensive Israeli diesel oil, whose only advantage is the quality of its refinement. … The large amounts of fuel accumulated in the Strip have dropped the price of a liter of diesel oil in Gaza to NIS 1-2 (about 26-52 cents) per liter, less than half the price in Israel. …
The tunnels industry in Rafah has been flourishing since the truce went into effect in June. Nearly everything passes through the tunnels: Cigarettes, toys, electric appliances, clothes and shoes, spices, vehicle spare parts and even sheep and calf for slaughter purposes. Omar Shaaban, an economist from Gaza, estimates that some 90% of the market activity in Gaza is carried out through the tunnels. According to him, the goods' movement generates between $30 and $40 million a month. "Our only problem is cement, iron and gas, which we have not managed to smuggle yet," says Azat Nijam, a merchant from Gaza. "The gas in the pipe is freezing in the tunnel, but we will overcome this as well."
Dec. 27, 2008 update: As the IDF took action today to try to stop the ongoing rockets coming out of Gaza, the issue again arises of Egyptian policy. In a Reuters discussion of the issue, Jonathan Wright explains why - against prevailing popular opinion in the country - Cairo continues to restrict access to Gaza:
Cairo believes that if it left the Egypt-Gaza border wide open Israel would wash its hands of responsibility for ensuring the Gazans receive enough to keep them alive—food, water, medical supplies, electricity and other essentials. Egyptian diplomats say that Israel would seal the border with Gaza on its side, diverting all trade and traffic through Egypt.
The burden would be a drain on Egyptian resources and the authorities might find it hard to prevent an influx of Gaza Palestinians seeking work and housing.
In one worst-case scenario Israel might hold Egypt responsible for any attacks on Israel launched from Gaza, forcing Egypt to act as Gaza policeman—a role fraught with danger. Egypt's presence in Gaza between 1948 and 1967, and its inability to impose full control on Palestinian groups there, helped drag Egypt into war with Israel in 1956 and 1967.
July 16, 2010 update: Major support for this plan from Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, with a twist: we agree that Israel's borders with Gaza should be closed but he sees shifting responsibility for it to Europe. Shimon Shiffer reports in Yedi'ot Aharonot:
Lieberman is troubled by the fact that despite the evacuation of all Israeli settlements in Gaza and a full IDF withdrawal, the disengagement was not acknowledged by the international community, which still demands that Israel provide the Strip's residents with their basic necessities. According to the FM's plan, Gaza – with European assistance – will become an entirely independent entity. In this way, Lieberman believes, the world will finally recognize the end of the Israeli occupation there. …
Lieberman's plan calls to fully lift the siege and allow ships to dock in the Strip without being inspected in Israel first. Ships that will undergo inspection in Cyprus or Greece will be allowed to continue towards Gaza. According to the proposal, Israel will also allow European countries to implement plans aimed at improving the lives of the coastal enclave's residents. Israel's border with the Hamas-ruled territory will be hermetically sealed. …
Lieberman is expected to ask his European counterparts to propose that Hamas construct a new power plant to generate electricity, a seawater desalination plant and a wastewater purification plant. The FM also supports any international plan for the mass-construction of apartments for Gaza's residents. Furthermore, Lieberman will propose that the Europeans send an international military force to the Israel-Gaza border crossings to enforce any agreement reached. The Foreign Ministry's confidential document also calls on the government to request that a force from the French Foreign Legion and commando units belonging to other European armies be deployed in the region to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Gaza.
Comment: I like the general drift but burdening Europeans with Gaza won't fly. Egypt is the only candidate for this role.