Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Rafah Crossing under the Muslim Brotherhood

When Mohamed Morsy won Egypt's presidency, things seemed to be looking up for Hamas. Finally, with Hosni Mubarak and his secular military successors ousted from power in favor of the Islamic backed, anti-Israeli Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas would both gain political and military strength and, importantly, see the restrictions imposed on the Rafah border crossing lifted.

Of course, in a story that was only passingly reported in the Western press, Gazan "freedom fighters" ambushed 16 Egyptian border guards who were breaking their daily Ramadan fast and killed them. This massacre came on the heels of an agreement between President Morsy and Ismail Haniyeh that substantially loosened restrictions on the Rafah border crossing and increased economic exchange with the territory. Morsy agreed to this pact in spite of the fact that the Egyptian military and many civilian authorities continued to see Hamas as a dangerous wildcard considering their activity and support for subversive "freedom fighters" operating in the sparsely populated and sparsely policed Sinai Peninsula.

The irony of all of this, of course, is that Hamas has never been better situated to take advantage of geopolitical changes in the region. Egypt has turned for a hostile entity into an ideological ally, but Hamas' alleged inability to police and control its territory have thwarted its attempts  to make peace with a nation and a president who actively seeks peace. Of course, the massacre lends credibility to those in the Egyptian military establishment who see Hamas as a bunch of troublemaking bandits and renegades. Indeed, this is largely consistent with the policies of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, who support the Palestinians insofar as they are a thorn in Israel's side, but don't actually want anything to do with them, knowing full well how devastating their influence has been in both Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait.

Of course, the re-shutting of the Rafah border after this attack has unsurprisingly not caused the same level of global panic and humanitarian concern among liberal Western Europeans, Australians and Americans as did the shutting of the Israel side crossings after the ambush and kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in 2005. No global outcry has gone up in London, Paris and Oslo demanding the immediate reopening of the Rafah border crossing and condemning the "collective punishment" of the Palestinians because of the acts of violence of a few Gazan renegades. Surprisingly, Egypt's consulates and embassies have not been beset by angry protesters demanding that Morsy and Egypt's government do everything in their power to ease the crisis. And of course, no aid flotillas from Turkey and Greece have left for Arish, Egypt to funnel aid into Palestine and break the terrible blockade despite the fact that Egypt's army closed down the network of underground tunnels used to bolster Gaza's economy.

None of this is happening because Arab "crimes" against the Palestinians are routinely dismissed and overlooked by ther Western world. Re-closing the Rafah border is just the latest in a series of actions, from the expulsion of Palestinians from Lebanon and Kuwait, to Black September, to the continued imposition of refugee camps upon the Palestinians in all other countries they live in, that have harmed the ability of Palestinians to either integrate into other countries or gain some measure of economic prosperity.

But the real lesson here is Hamas' astounding ability to shoot itself in the foot at such an early stage in the relationship. While the Palestinian Authority and Egypt's military are more than pleased to see Egypt continue to keep its distance from Hamas, Haniyeh and his ilk must be sitting in Gaza City and wondering how it all went wrong so quickly...