Palestinian Authority snubbing Israeli offer to quietly run Rafah border crossing

Israel, Egypt trade blame for continued closure of key crossing; PM wanted Ramallah’s officers to operate under guise of local aid group, fearing opposition from far-right partners

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A tank with an Israeli flag on it enters the Gazan side of the Rafah Border Crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces via AP)
A tank with an Israeli flag on it enters the Gazan side of the Rafah Border Crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces via AP)

Israel is trying to convince the Palestinian Authority to help manage the Gaza side of the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt but has been rebuffed by Ramallah, a US official told The Times of Israel on Monday.

The offer was the first time that Israel quietly proposed having some PA involvement in Gaza after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the idea for months, sometimes equating the PA in the West Bank to the Hamas terror group.

But the proposal came with a significant caveat — the officers at the crossing would have to identify themselves as part of a local humanitarian organization because Netanyahu fears that official PA involvement at Rafah would not be accepted by his far-right coalition partners, the US official said, confirming reporting in the Axios news site.

Israel launched a military operation last week to take over the Gaza side of Rafah, shuttering one of the only crossings for delivering aid into Egypt.

Israel is seeking to prevent Hamas from profiting off of activity at the gate, thwart continued weapons smuggling from Egypt and dismantle a primary institution of Hamas’s sovereignty in Gaza.

But the move has sparked a major diplomatic spat with Egypt, which fears that an Israeli operation along its border could lead Palestinians sheltering in Rafah to breach the fence and pour into the Sinai.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry attends a panel discussion during the World Economic Forum Special Meeting in Riyadh on April 29, 2024. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

Israel has sought to coordinate the operation with Egypt, but has apparently failed to do so, as Jerusalem says Cairo is refusing to reopen its side of the crossing for aid to come in, citing security concerns.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry denounced what he called Israel’s attempt to blame Egypt for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying Israel’s seizure of the crossing as well as its military operations in the area were the main reasons that aid has been unable to enter Gaza.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s office said he had held several calls with European counterparts to try and solve the matter, indicating that ties are so poor with Egypt that he cannot reach out to Shoukry directly or that his influence in the Israeli government is limited.

Even if Egypt did reopen its side of Rafah, Israel appears to have launched the operation without first securing an agreement from another body to replace Hamas at the crossing, the US official said, adding that the request to the PA was only made after the fact.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ramallah rejected the Israeli request, saying it would only agree to take over Rafah if Israel agreed to the plan being crafted by Arab allies to eventually establish a Palestinian state, a Palestinian official told Sky News.

The US official said the sides are still working to try and find a solution to the issue given the need to reopen the crossing for aid as soon as possible.

Quoting an unnamed source, Axios reported that Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar told his Egyptian counterpart Abbas Kamel that Israel wants to reopen the Rafah crossing, but will not allow Hamas to return to the area.

“This is a security necessity on which we will not compromise,” Katz tweeted Tuesday.

“The key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends,” Katz claimed.

Shoukry called his Israeli counterpart’s version of events “invented facts.”

There is significant aversion in Cairo to reopening the crossing when it will be Israeli forces operating, at least temporarily, on the other side of it — an image of cooperation that won’t play well in Egypt while the war in Gaza is ongoing.

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