May 13, 2024 - World

Israel proposes Palestinian Authority unofficially operate Rafah crossing

Palestinians walk to re-enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing, on March 23, 2024 in Rafah, Egypt. (Photo by Ali Moustafa/Getty Images)

Palestinians walk to re-enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing, on March 23, 2024 in Rafah, Egypt. (Photo by Ali Moustafa/Getty Images)

Israel proposed the Palestinian Authority send representatives to the Rafah crossing last week to take part in operating it, though not in an official capacity, four senior American, Israeli and Palestinian officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The proposal is the first time since Hamas' October 7th attack that Israel has agreed to discuss any involvement by the Palestinian Authority in the governance of the Gaza Strip.

State of play: The Israeli proposal came following the Rafah crossing's closure after Israeli forces captured its Palestinian side last Monday.

  • Since the closure, Egypt has suspended the transfer of aid trucks through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza. Egypt said it would resume allowing trucks to pass upon the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Rafah crossing.
  • The halting of aid trucks has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the amount of aid entering Gaza and further deterioration of the humanitarian crisis, especially in southern Gaza.
  • Israel's Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar told his Egyptian counterpart Abbas Kamel that Israel wants to reopen the Rafah crossing, but that Hamas returning to control the area is unacceptable, a source with knowledge of the call told Axios.
  • Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant told Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Sunday that Israel is open to many solutions for the Rafah crossing except for a return of Hamas, an Israeli official said.

Behind the scenes: Senior Israeli officials told Axios that it planned to try and bring in Palestinian elements unconnected to Hamas to manage the site within a few days of taking it over.

  • Last week, Bar and other Israeli officials proposed that Palestinian Authority personnel be integrated into operations for the Rafah crossing.
  • One of Israel's conditions was that personnel sent to the crossing would not act as members of the Palestinian Authority, but be defined as a local aid committee, senior Israeli, American and Palestinian officials told Axios.
  • Senior U.S. officials said that the Israeli condition infuriated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his advisers, who made it clear to the U.S. and Israel that they would not agree to operate in the Rafah crossing "undercover."

Between the lines: Senior U.S. and Israeli officials said that the Palestinian Authority demanded as part of the discussion that Israel's ultranationalist Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich release the Palestinian tax revenues that were withheld about 10 days ago.

  • The tax revenues are a critical part of the Palestinian Authority's budget and the freeze required the organization to slash workers salaries by 50%.
  • Smotrich froze the transfer of tax money on the grounds that the Palestinian Authority was pushing the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials.
  • A senior U.S. official said Palestinian Authority officials do not want to send workers to the Rafah crossing, only for it to be attacked by Hamas and they be killed.

The big picture: Senior Palestinian and U.S. officials said Palestinian Authority officials also told Israel that the Palestinian Authority's return to the Rafah crossing should take place as part of a broader deal that also provides a political future and not as a one-off intended only to resolve the crisis between Israel and Egypt.

What next: Senior U.S. and Israeli officials said that the talks continue and that the Palestinian Authority has not outright rejected the possibility of sending representatives to the Rafah crossing.

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