In its efforts to help arrange an Israel-Hamas ceasefire, the Palestinian Authority is set to propose to Egypt that it open the Rafah border crossing under the supervision of PA security forces, and deploy PA forces along the Philadelphi Corridor between Gaza and Egypt.
Israel does not oppose the idea of PA forces at Rafah, Israeli sources said.
The proposal would mark a significant return of Mahmoud Abbas’s forces to positions of authority in Gaza, seven years after Hamas seized the Strip from Abbas in a coup.
Hamas has sought the reopening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt as one of its key demands for an end to the current conflict. Tuesday’s Egyptian ceasefire proposal — accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas — spoke only vaguely about reopening border crossings.
Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas is set to meet in Cairo on Thursday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and will present a ceasefire proposal that includes the Rafah provision, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. Abbas is also to meet Thursday in Egypt with the deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, Moussa Abu Marzook, and discuss ceasefire terms with him. He may also meet with Hamas’s political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in Turkey.
Abbas arrived in Cairo on Wednesday with a group of senior advisers and some of the heads of PA security forces. He is set to meet with Arab League representatives, and has held talks with Middle East Quartet representative Tony Blair, who is also serving as an adviser to el-Sissi.
According to Abbas’s proposal, PA forces loyal to him would deploy not only at the Rafah crossing, but all the way along the Philadelphi Corridor, the 14-kilometer stretch of Gaza-Egyptian border territory. The PA has set up a command force that would transfer from the West Bank to Gaza to oversee the hundreds of personnel who would deploy.
The PA intends to build that wider Gaza force from the ranks of PA Presidential Guard and National Security members who live in Gaza, are paid by Ramallah, but have had nothing to do since Abbas’s forces were overthrown by Hamas in the 2007 coup in which the Islamist group seized power in the Strip. These potential recruits have already been informed of what may be ahead of them.
Egypt made plain last month that it was not prepared to reopen the Rafah crossing unless forces loyal to Abbas were stationed there and along the border.
The PA is also set to ask Israel to work with it to operate the Israel-Gaza crossing at Erez, again with PA security forces deployed there — a move that would essentially lift the Israeli security blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israel would not oppose the deployment of forces loyal to Abbas at a reopened Rafah crossing, Israeli sources said.
A senior Hamas source told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that Hamas was not ruling out these ideas, “but this has to be done in coordination and consultation with us.”
The source emphasized, however, that Hamas has other demands too that must be met in order for a ceasefire to be agreed on, notably including the demand that Israel release dozens of its operatives, released in the 2011 Shalit deal, who were rearrested by Israeli forces searching for the killers of the three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month.