A little over a year ago, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn, Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz, the PA’s Muhammad Dahlan and the EU reached an agreement to allow Palestinians free movement in and out of the Gaza Strip.
The Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) signed on November 15, 2005 promised Palestinians freedom of movement of people and goods. A detailed fact sheet published by the Palestinian Monitoring Group shows that since last year, none of the agreement’s provisions have been fully implemented by Israel.
The AMA sought to facilitate the movement of Palestinian people and goods between Gaza and Israel (through crossing points between the two areas); between Gaza and the West Bank (through bus and truck convoys running between the two parts of the occupied Palestinian territory); within Palestinian communities in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem (by working to dismantle the internal closure regime, which consists of hundreds of checkpoints and fixed obstacles to movement between Palestinian communities in the West Bank); between Gaza and the West Bank; and to third countries (by opening the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Egypt, allowing Palestinians to build a seaport in Gaza, and allowing Gaza’s airport to reopen).
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Rafah crossing point has been open, since June 28, 2006, on only 13% of the days it was scheduled to be open. The UN office has also stated that since June 25, Israel has frequently prevented EU monitors from reaching the site, thereby forcing Rafah’s closure.
In July, seven Palestinians waiting to be let into Gaza from Egypt died as a result of heat and the absence of shelter. Under the AMA, Palestinian customs officials were supposed to inspect imports through Kerem Shalom. To date, Rafah is still closed to imports and Israel has not permitted Palestinian customs officials at Kerem Shalom.
As to the Crossing Points Between Gaza and Israel, the AMA committed that Israel will “allow the number of trucks per day processed [for export] through Karni to reach 150 [by December 31 2005], and 400 by end-2006.”
In 2005, 90% of all Palestinian trade was with Israel, or through Israel, to markets in third countries. But since the signing of the AMA, according to the the Palestine Trade Center, Karni has been completely closed for export for over 155 of approximately 310 working days, or roughly 50% of the time. And since the signing of the AMA, an average of 18 trucks per day have been processed through Karni for export.
Agricultural products from Gaza during the 2005 harvest season (which were sold in winter 2006) rotted in Gaza as they were stuck on the border. According to estimates by Paltrade and the United States Agency for International Development, the losses resulting from Karni’s closure during the 2005 harvest season were estimated at $600,000 per day, of which agricultural losses stood at $400,000 per day.
A link between Gaza and the West Bank is vital for the Palestinian economy. Neither area alone possesses the characteristics to be economically and independently viable. Together, however, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank economically complement one other: Gaza has an airport, access to the sea, and natural gas reserves, while the West Bank has water resources, room for development, and the international market of east Jerusalem.
Israel had agreed to implement a more robust convoy provision under the Oslo Accords. But Israel called off discussions regarding implementation of the convoy provision shortly after the AMA was concluded, and refused to recommence discussions. As a result, and in direct violation of the AMA, no truck or bus convoys between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have operated. Israel also refuses to discuss the establishment of a permanent road link between the West Bank and Gaza.
In the occupied West Bank, millions of Palestinians are restricted in their movement - entirely within Palestinian territory - for the benefit of 430,000 Israeli settlers illegally residing on Palestinian land. Restrictions on movement include a stringent permit regime, roadblocks, checkpoints, and Israel’s Wall - built primarily inside the occupied West Bank.
Finally, according to the AMA agreement worked out by Rice and her Quartet partners, “The parties agree on the importance of the airport.” Again on this issue Israel has refused to discuss the reopening of Gaza’s airport since the signing of the agreement.
While Israel has used the capture of one of its soldiers as an excuse for the continuous disruption of Palestinian movement, there is no doubt that what Israel has been doing is a collective punishment and therefore a war crime according to international humanitarian law.
It is not surprising, then, to hear people like United Nations official John Dugard saying: “Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.”
In a November 14 press release issued by senior PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, he made the connection between the current crisis and the restriction on the movement of Palestinians. “We would not be in the intense crisis we are in today had the [Agreement on Movement and Access] been implemented,” he said.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah. His website is www.daoudkuttab.com.