The National (Editorial)
December 10, 2009 - 1:00am

The news is sure to inflame the Arab world: Egypt is building, with US help, a new wall to prevent Gazans from tunnelling into the country. This development becomes all the more contentious since it comes nearly one year after the devastating Israeli assault on the Palestinian territory. But cooler heads must prevail. Any backlash against Egyptian authorities would be undeserved. It is Israel’s blockade, not Egypt’s wall that is starving the Palestinians.

The blockade on Gaza is a diplomatic nightmare that has ballooned into a security liability for Egypt. The honeycomb of tunnels that traverse the border is a source of vital food, fuel and other necessities for the besieged population. It is also a transit network used to transport illegal arms and migrants.

For Egypt, a country that has its own concerns with militant organisations, the tunnels are an untenable breach of national security. The tunnels may be the only thing staving off genuine starvation for the Gazans, but Egypt should not be expected to compromise its commitment to the security of its own citizens and its sovereign right to control its borders.

What Israel is doing in Gaza is not only morally wrong, it is in violation of international law. It is difficult to know why, exactly, Israel continues to get away with flaunting its international obligations, but it probably has much to do with diplomatic realities. As so often happens in international relations, what is morally right is often sidelined by the need to conduct effective diplomacy. The international community is afraid to push Israel too hard, lest it become even more intransigent.

The latest example is the about-face of the European Union over a proposed plan to endorse the division of Jerusalem. Israel successfully argued that forcing such a decision on it would make peace less obtainable. The Europeans bought their argument and issued a weaker declaration of support for a shared capital – no matter that the only reason the division of Jerusalem is controversial is because the Israelis continue with illegal settlement in East Jerusalem. Not confronting Israel on this issue is in the interest of long-term peace, we are told. But how can this be the case when it validates Israel’s tactics and has a negative impact on the security of its neighbours?

The Israel-Palestine conflict has knock-on effects throughout the Arab world, but it is most acutely felt in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. These countries may have a hand to play in the conflict’s resolution, but they cannot be expected to set aside their national welfare for the sake of a conflict not of their making.

The tunnels may provide essential goods to the Gazans, but by ameliorating the effects of the siege these tunnels only hand the international community an excuse not to force its conclusion. The blockade must end, but Egypt should not be expected to set aside its national interests because it persists.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017