Leaks from Palestinian sources heralded welcome, albeit minor, changes to the protocols that govern Palestinians’ access from the Gaza Strip. These fragments of information, the result of understandings that brought Operation Protective Edge to an end, serve only to remind us that critical decisions are being kept hidden from the Israeli and Palestinian public. Since the hostilities ended, and the announcement was made that the parties would reconvene in a month’s time to negotiate a long-term agreement, the media has been full of vague reports, often giving the impression that a big change is coming, but what exactly the parties agreed on during the Cairo talks, or what else is on the agenda, has not been officially revealed.
It’s been said that the “Gaza-Israel crossings would open” as part of the agreement, but no one mentions the fact that the crossings were technically “open” before the fighting began, and, for the most part, while it was taking place. It isn’t about opening the crossings – it’s about who and what can move through them and in which directions. The media reported that the quotas for travel through Erez Crossing would be increased, but failed to mention that there were no quotas at Erez to begin with, except those governing travel for “merchants” (a slightly deceiving title for individuals who are mainly involved in the purchase of goods that are brought into Gaza), and that the problem with travel isn’t just with the number of people traveling, but rather the strict criteria that determine who is entitled to travel.
There was also talk of freer flow of goods through Kerem Shalom Crossing, but getting in more goods that are already permitted to enter won’t solve the problem. The focus should be on lifting restrictions on entrance of now very-badly-needed construction materials to Gaza, including the total prohibition on selling these to the private sector. “Freer flow” of goods must also include transport of Gaza-made and grown goods out of Gaza to its once primary markets in the West Bank and Israel.
Top military and defense ministry officials have acknowledged the urgent need for rebuilding in Gaza. After 50 days of fighting, death, loss and massive destruction, the only reasonable thing to do is to work towards building a better, more secure future for the region. In a position paper we published following the fighting, we called for a new approach given the failure of the Gaza closure. We also questioned the separation policy, whose components are apparently being treated as bargaining chips in negotiations rather than actual security imperatives, which they were a minute ago, as presented to the public. The position paper includes a call to remove the restrictions on travel, to allow the sale of Gaza-made goods in the West Bank and in Israel and to approve the entry of construction materials to Gaza at a more reasonable pace than what’s been true in the past.
Given the lack of transparency surrounding the parties’ immediate and long-term plans, we also wrote to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Lieut. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, listing operative suggestions that could help put into practice the Chief of Staff’s declarations that the military would mobilize to help with rebuilding and recovery in Gaza.
Between July 8 and August 26, Gaza residents and many Israelis were in real mortal danger. The delicate calm of the present has to be reinforced by a more long-term approach that would ensure the fighting doesn’t resume and gives real hope for a sustainable future. The understandings that compose the ceasefire agreement must not remain shrouded in secrecy and known only to a select few – they affect the lives of each and every one of us. We have a right to know what has been agreed and what is being negotiated. The negotiating parties have a duty to report to the public, which sent them to stop the killing and destruction and forge a better path forward.