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Why the Gaza port matters

While prospects for a negotiated end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza remain bleak, making use of the existing sea passage to Gaza could offer a way forward for all parties, including Egypt.

As negotiations to end the bloodshed in Gaza continue in Cairo, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said today that some 65,000 homes had been destroyed by Israeli bombing, leaving more than a quarter of the Gazan population seeking shelter – half of them at UNRWA schools. Aid organizations say the recovery effort will take years and, even then, only if Gaza has unfettered access to the construction materials it needs to rebuild.

Getting there hinges, in part, on whether Israel will allow the free movement of goods through existing land crossings into Gaza. But Palestinian negotiators have insisted that those entry points are insufficient and have called for Israel to relinquish its control over another key passage – the Mediterranean coast.

The sun setting on the Mediterranean Sea where fishing boats are docked at Gaza City Port, Gaza City, Gaza, February 5, 2012 (photo: Activestills)

The sun setting on the Mediterranean Sea where fishing boats are docked at Gaza City Port, Gaza City, Gaza, February 5, 2012 (photo: Activestills)

In a brief televised statement issued hours before the recent three-day ceasefire expired, Hamas military wing spokesperson Abu Obeida referred three times to the Gaza port, urging Palestinian negotiators to push for a lifting of the Israeli sea blockade. His emphasis could suggest an opening for the so-far stalled indirect talks in Cairo, which aim to broker a long-term truce between the two sides.

Although details of the talks have been sparse, Palestinian negotiators have said they stand behind Hamas demands to end the now eight-year land, sea and air blockade of Gaza. Broadly speaking, these demands fall into two categories: the “free flow” of people and the right to import and export goods. On the former, Israel has offered to be “more flexible” with permits for the Erez crossing, the only civilian access point between Gaza and the West Bank. On the latter, reports indicate that Israel has categorically refused to accept a recommissioning of the Gaza air and sea ports.

At the same time, Israeli negotiators have reportedly shown some flexibility on the issue of importing cement to Gaza – a demand that Israel has said could be met with “international control and supervision.” The European Union Border Assistance Mission in Rafah, or EUBAM, has such a mandate but has been inactive since June 2007, “due to the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.” But as part of the Cairo talks, three of its main sponsors – Germany, France and Britain – have reportedly proposed reactivating the Mission, which was formed as part of the November 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.

That agreement, which was inked following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, stipulated construction of a Gaza seaport. To date, however, the port remains capable of serving only small fishing boats and Palestinian maritime police vessels. In all cases, Israel has largely restricted these vessels’ movement to three nautical miles, despite an agreement to extend access to 20 nautical miles, or roughly 37 kilometers.

Sabri Baker, 53, a fisherman and father of 16 children, walks towards his destroyed boat in Gaza harbor, July 15, 2014. In 2012 his previous boat was confiscated by the Israeli army and was never returned. The boat was destroyed during an Israeli attack on July 11, 2014  (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Sabri Baker, 53, a fisherman and father of 16 children, walks towards his destroyed boat in Gaza harbor, July 15, 2014. In 2012 his previous boat was confiscated by the Israeli army and was never returned. The boat was destroyed during an Israeli attack on July 11, 2014 (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Could international oversight enable full Palestinian access to Gaza’s territorial waters? As it stands, EUBAM is tasked only with overseeing the Rafah crossing, but its mandate also includes “Palestinian capacity building in all aspects of border control,” including at the Kerem Shalom crossing. That crossing is designed exclusively for the passage of goods, and includes sophisticated scanning equipment to ensure that no “unauthorized” cargo enters Gaza.

Although Palestinian negotiators have objected to Israel’s list of so-called dual use items, it may be possible to revise that list as part of the Cairo talks. By extension, mechanisms for monitoring the entry and exit of goods could be applied to an expanded seaport – also under the supervision of an international body like EUBAM.

Setting aside the technical challenges of building such a seaport and monitoring mechanism – challenges that would require expertise beyond that currently available to EUBAM – forging a compromise on this Hamas demand might be less complicated than it seems. For one thing, incoming goods could be inspected at their points of origin and in accordance with international maritime laws. More important, perhaps, Israeli officials have themselves pointed to the port as a way to facilitate Gaza commerce.

A 2011 plan endorsed by then Israeli Transport Minister Israel Katz would have built “an island” off the coast of Gaza to include both air and sea ports. Israel’s motives at the time, according to Katz, were “to break all ties with Gaza while maintaining [Israel’s] control over maritime security.” Although Hamas is unlikely to accede to Israeli oversight at the port, viewing it as a continuation of the Gaza blockade by other means, an international mechanism similar to EUBAM could be acceptable to both parties.

While prospects for a negotiated end to the blockade remain bleak, making use of the existing sea passage to Gaza could offer a way forward for all parties – including Egypt, which has effectively frozen all land passage through its border at Rafah. As the talks continue, one thing remains clear: The Palestinians of Gaza are loathe to return to the status quo. With so many of them displaced and their homes destroyed, their determination to end the siege is as much about national aspiration as it is about survival.

Related:
This is Netanyahu’s final solution
It’s about keeping the Palestinians under control
Gaza’s half-million internally displaced

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    COMMENTS

    1. Richard

      Hamas would use the port to import weapons – so its not going to happen. Are there any other Hamas demands you’re interested in peddling today?

      Reply to Comment
    2. The Trespasser

      There is not even one reason to lift a blockade of an entity which is ruled by a terrorist organization.

      Reply to Comment
      • JG

        Thanks for supporting the demand for a blockade of Israel

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Rubbish. Israel is a recognized country ruled by a democratically-elected government.

          Only a brain-damaged person could compare it to a territory ruled by a rogue terrorist organization.

          Reply to Comment
          • Goldmarx

            You do know that Hamas won the Gaza election in 2006, beating Fatah by a margin of 44% TO 41%, right?

            I guess only brain-damaged people take democracy seriously.

            Reply to Comment
          • bar

            Hmmmm,so they didn’t win a majority and yet took over sole control. And then they refused to hold another election since 2006. Do you know how foolish your defense of these murderers sounds?

            Reply to Comment
          • Goldmarx

            The fact that the current Gazan government was elected with a plurality does not make them less democratic. Nixon won the Presidency of the US in 1968 with a plurality in a three-way race against Humphrey and George Wallace.

            As to your defense of this war, THAT is the epitome of a foolish defense of murderers;

            Reply to Comment
          • The State of Israel was created by dispossessing 730,000 Palestinians from
            their land and homes.
            Hamas is a political party that has been elected 3 times by the people of Gaza.
            Israel has been mounting an assault on Gaza, an occupied territory, in contravention of international law, with 3930 tanks, 326 F16s, and naval gunships.
            Maybe you should be a little more circumspect in your application of the “T”
            word and study the facts.

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            The Palmer report found that under international law Israel had a legal blockade of Gaza. There is no occupation of Gaza. Israel withdrew every soldier and civilian from Gaza only to be attacked time and time again, until Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza. If Gaza did not commit acts of war against Israel, Israel would not have to defend itself against murderers who wish to destroy the state of Israel and commit genocide against its people.

            Reply to Comment
          • Not true, actually

            Pedro: “The Palmer report found that under international law Israel had a legal blockade of Gaza.”

            Not strictly true, actually.

            The Palmer report found that Israel followed the SanRemo Manual i.e. that Israel followed the correct procedure on How To Run A Blockade.

            But Palmer didn’t actually find that Israel Had A Right To Impose A Blockade, mainly because that finding fell outside of his mandate.

            The best you can find in the Palmer report is a statement that Israel has a “legitimate” security concern w.r.t. Hamas and IJ.

            But “legitimate” is not the same thing as “legal”, and Palmer didn’t even pretend to claim that Israel had a “legal” right to impose a blockade.

            Mainly because Palmer understood perfectly well that Israel had no such “legal” right whatsoever.

            This is very simple: a naval blockade is governed by int’l humanitarian law i.e. the Rules of War.

            And IHL is applicable only during “armed conflict”, but merely during times of enmity or friction between two sides that do not like each other.

            During a war you can blockade.
            Absent a war you can’t.

            When the flotilla sailed to Gaza There Was No Armed Conflict, ergo, Israel had no right to blockade anyone, any where, any time, no matter how “legitimate” its “security concerns” might be.

            Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            “The State of Israel was created by dispossessing 730,000 Palestinians from their land and homes.”

            Sorry, no. In 1947, the non-Jewish “Palestinian nation” hadn’t been invented yet. Everyone, including themselves, called them Arabs.

            The Arab nation has more than enough land, most of it well outside their indigenous mandate of the Arabian Peninsula. It is their struggle to rob the Jews of their indigenous territory (the Land of Israel) that constitutes a movement toward dispossession.

            Anti-Zionism is support for Arab colonialist land-theft and Arab imperialist aggression against an indigenous people on its own soil. For the sake of justice, all Arab settlers need to evacuate the entire Land of Israel. No justice, no peace!

            Reply to Comment
          • Not even close

            “Sorry, no. In 1947, the non-Jewish “Palestinian nation” hadn’t been invented yet. Everyone, including themselves, called them Arabs.”

            A bizarre notion.

            The Mandate for Palestine had this to say: “The Administration of Palestine shall be responsible for enacting a nationality law. There shall be included in this law provisions framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent residence in Palestine.”

            So, very clearly, EVERYONE who lived in Palestine was to be regarded as a “Palestinian citizen”, and that meant that EVERYONE was to have a “Palestinian nationality”.

            Not just the Jewish immigrants, though they would also be counted amongst the “Palestinians”.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Tomer

      These so-called “falestinyans” are a lie and a total fabrication. No such nation-state ever existed in World history.

      If such a nation existed then:
      1. Where was their capital city?
      2. Where was their parliament?
      3. What was currency called?
      4, Who was their first King?

      What do you have is a bunch of disenfranchised Egypytians who have invented a false past in order to jusifying killing Israelis.

      That’s why they need a port – to import in more weapons!

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        The Palestinians do exist. After the Jordanians revoked their citizenship, they had to invent some self identity. You would do the same if all your Arab brothers treated you like the Arabs do.

        Who was their first King? The Egyptian, Yassir Arafat, was their first King. Thank Peres, Rabin and their merry band of idealists for putting Arafat on his throne and weapons in his terrorists hands.

        Where was their capital city? Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Damour, Beirut, Baghdad, Tunis, and wherever Arafat sat his butt.

        Where is their parliament? You got me there. Since when do totalitarian governments like Hamas and Fatah have real parliaments?

        What is their currency called? Terrorism. They regularly exchange terrorism for euros and American dollars and then buy shekels.

        Reply to Comment
      • JG

        Who was your first king, european imperialist?
        The Tsar, Wilhelm I or Queen Victoria?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          First King? Saul.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Pedro X

      All Gaza needs to do is to get rid of Hamas, all terrorist factions and their guns. Then they need to recognize Israel and accept peace as a means of moving forward. Everything will flow from there.

      The Japanese and Germans internalized that they had to give up their hatreds, guns and embrace peace as a means to reconstructing their societies.

      Reply to Comment
      • gitelsura

        Pedro says “all Gaza needs to do is get rid of Hamas..then they need to recognize Israel and accept peace as a means of moving forward. Everything will flow from there…”

        Hello? Fatah did exactly that in the 1990’s, as part of the “peace process.” What did that get for the West Bank? A vastly accelerated pace of land theft and settlement construction, and further loss of the people’s most basic freedoms. The Palestinians have endured nearly half a century of occupation, oppression and dispossession. But they’re the ones standing in the way of peace?

        Hamas agreed to recognize Israel and to retract its own charter, as part of a unity government with Fatah. Israel couldn’t tolerate that, and that was the real incentive for operation “Protective Edge.”

        Israel wants to keep the status quo going, to grab as much Palestinian land as it possibly can. The status quo requires endless blather about a “peace process”, and endless hysteria about Palestinian “terrorism.”

        I wonder if Pedro really buys what he is saying.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Arafat never accepted the peace process. He and the PA never gave up armed struggle. Their security services served as armed terrorists and hide other terrorists in their security compounds.

          In the ten years between 1979 and 1988 128 Israelis were killed, mostly by attacks originating outside of Israel. Between 1988 to 1992 during the first intifada 154 Israelis were killed. Between 1993 and 1997 236 Israelis died. In the second intifada over 1100 Israelis were killed.

          Hamas has never agreed to accept Israel. Spokesman for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Tahi al-Nunu said

          “The issue of Hamas recognizing Israel is a complete nonstarter… ”

          Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said:

          “We acknowledge that Abbas’s recognition of the occupation is his traditional position, nothing new. The [Hamas] movement position is unwavering in not recognizing the occupation in any form.”

          Sheikh Hassan Youssef, top Hamas leader in the West Bank also said Hamas would never recognize Israel.

          Reply to Comment
      • Goldmarx

        Germany and Japan did not have a history of being occupied by the United States prior to World War II.

        Reply to Comment
    5. JohnW

      The following text is part of the agreement signed by Israel and the PLO in the Oslo accords:

      “4. Except for the arms, ammunition and equipment of the Palestinian Police described in Annex I, and those of the Israeli military forces, no organization, group or individual in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall manufacture, sell, acquire, possess, import or otherwise introduce into the West Bank or the Gaza Strip any firearms, ammunition, weapons, explosives, gunpowder or any related equipment, unless otherwise provided for in Annex I.”

      Before 2007 when Hamas ousted the PLO, the PLO adhered to this agreement (mostly). So there was no blockade of Gaza.

      After Hamas took over, they clearly stated that they are not willing to abide by past agreements with Israel. Israel therefore had to blockade Gaza in order to prevent Hamas importing advanced weapons with which it would be able to attack Israel more effectively. So the blockade of Gaza is both legal and necessary.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Marty

      The BEST way forward would be to move all Arabs into the west bank and move the settlers to Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Jon972mag

      While the following is a rather interesting read, the first question that always comes to my mind is: IF Gaza does NOT have access to all the construction matterials, steel and concret it needs, just how do all of those high-tech, reenforced tunnels ever get built let along financed. “As negotiations to end the bloodshed in Gaza continue in Cairo, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said today that some 65,000 homes had been destroyed by Israeli bombing, leaving more than a quarter of the Gazan population seeking shelter – half of them at UNRWA schools. Aid organizations say the recovery effort will take years and, even then, only if Gaza has unfettered access to the construction materials it needs to rebuild.”

      Reply to Comment
    8. NIZ

      There can be no democracy with occupation. When Palestinians don’t control their borders, their airspace or their financial institutions, any state building will fail. Until today there is no other state between Jordan and the mediterranean except the ethnocracy of Israel. Israel has to give palestinians citizenship and equal rights. There is no other way about it. Now of course, Israel could decide to continue on the current path towards disaster. Stripped of all human rights, we have no other option but to fight. The trespasser, get out of our land and go die somewhere else, you disgust me.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kiwi

        “Israel has to give palestinians citizenship and equal rights”

        Funny that. Israel already has over 1 million Arab citizens with equal rights.

        As for the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, they were never part of Israel so Israel is not obliged to make them citizens.

        In any case, why do they want to be citizens of a country they hate so much? I for one find that suspicious.

        Want equal rights and democracy? What is wrong with the two state solution? An Arab/Muslim state living side by side with Israel, a Jewish state which could still have the minority (1 million) Arab population. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Whats wrong with it?

        Reply to Comment
    9. Average American

      There’s a seaport in Gaza? Why wouldn’t Israel want to take it over and use it? Like they took over and used the West Bank? Think of the commerce, port fees, transportation contracts, land development, tourism. Money to be made. And more room for Jews to live. Win-win. Israel should be all over that.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        “Win-win. Israel should be all over that.”

        Thanks for the advice. But since it comes from you, no!

        Reply to Comment
    10. Average American

      Cigar, you mentioned “the entire Land Of Israel”. What is the Land Of Israel? What would you say are its borders? From where to where on a map would it be? Would it be what the Zionists defined when they created Israel? Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, half of Iraq (“to the Euphrates”), Jordan, a quarter of Saudi Arabia, and the Sinai (“to the river of Egypt”)?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kiwi

        You are a disgrace. You are not a typical American, let alone an Average one.

        Most Americans are ashamed of you, I am sure. You are full of hate, aren’t you?

        As a Christian, I can only feel pity for you. I fear for your soul.

        Reply to Comment
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