By Salama A Salama
Egypt has abdicated all responsibility for the end of the calming-down arrangements between Israel and Hamas. By doing so, it has thrown the ball into Israel's court. As an occupying power, Israel is responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
It is to be recalled that Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem are still under official Israeli occupation. Therefore, Israel is required by international law to supply the inhabitants with their basic needs.
From a legal point of view, Egypt is doing the right thing. Rafah, the only crossing controlled by Egypt, is subject to a three-way agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the EU. Now that the EU has withdrawn and the PA is no longer manning the crossing, the Rafah crossing can only open in cases that Egypt deem exceptional. On several occasions, Egypt opened the crossing to allow for humanitarian assistance and the sick to travel for treatment.
Egypt, however, doesn't want Rafah to be a substitute for other crossings, for that would be letting Israel off the hook with regard to its legal responsibilities in Gaza. It is a sticky point, and one that Egypt failed to get across to the Arab and Muslim world, where demonstrations are regularly held to protest against the closure of that particular crossing. It is worth noting here that the Camp David Accords stipulate that the Rafah crossing should not be closed except in Yom Kippur and Eid Al-Adha.
The current power struggle among the Palestinians has a lot to do with the current impasse. Egypt, which tried in vain to mediate between Fatah and Hamas, now blames Hamas for the collapse of talks. It is fair, however, to note that the current split in Palestinian ranks is only a reflection of divisions among Arab regimes.
Those regimes that back Mahmoud Abbas -- and his futile negotiations with Israel -- are the same ones that support the US position, the roadmap, the Quartet recommendations, and the Annapolis resolutions. And they are the same regimes that tried by various means to isolate and weaken Hamas.
Then you get the regimes that support Hamas and maintain that US-Israeli plans have come to a dead end. Unfortunately, the Palestinian issue has become entangled with other things, such as Syria's position on Lebanon and the Iranian nuclear issue.
Washington, for its part, used regional tensions to whip up fears among Gulf countries. So now Gulf countries, instead of reaching a deal with Iran to guarantee security in the Gulf, are viewing the Iranians as more of a threat than the Israelis. The recent talks held between Arab foreign ministers and Secretary of State Rice in New York serve to illustrate this point.
In fact, Washington is backing the PA so fervently in order to divide the Palestinians and also to break the Egypt-Syria-Saudi Arabia alliance that had kept the situation under control for quite some time. Once the alliance was shaken, bickering started in earnest among the Palestinians, Lebanese, Sunnis, and Shias. The political vacuum in the region became all too obvious as a result.
It is no wonder that Palestinian divisions seem so hard to heal. To put it bluntly, any reconciliation between the PA and Hamas would mean the end of the material and political backing Abbas and Fatah receive from Washington and the EU. Still, level headed Palestinians know that the only way out is through Egyptian mediation.
What will happen next is anybody's guess. In the next few weeks, major changes are likely to happen. Washington, for example, may open talks with Tehran. And Syria may soon resume negotiations with Israel.