by Linah Alsaafin, Al Jazeera
Hamas has handed over administrative control of five border crossings in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority.
Wednesday’s handover, the first in over a decade, is part of a deal agreed on in the latest round of Egypt-brokered reconciliation talks between Hamas and the PA-ruled Fatah political party in Cairo on October 12.
Fatah spokesperson Osama Qawasmeh told Al Jazeera that no conditions were set by Fatah or Hamas for the handover.
“The issue is simply a matter of restoring the status quo back under the Palestinian Authority’s control, as was the case before the 2007 split,” he said, referring to the political schism that ended with Hamas taking over the Gaza Strip after an attempted coup by US-backed Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan.
The PA will take administrative charge of the three cargo crossings including the Karam Abu Salem crossing on the Egyptian border, as well as the Rafah and Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossings – the latter which is controlled by Israel in the north of the Strip.
In a statement on Tuesday, the PA minister of civil affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh, said the national unity government is prepared to work closely with Egyptian authorities to prepare the Rafah border crossing for operation by November 15, as specified by the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.
Rafah, the main border crossing in the south of the Gaza Strip, has been largely closed to Gaza’s population of two million since Hamas took over.
The other crossing, Erez, is located in the north of the strip and is run by Israel.
The PA will also be in charge of the three cargo crossing points of Karni, Kerem Shalom (Karem Abu Salem) and Sufa.
‘Better quality of life’
Qawasmeh said that this handover would make the lives of Palestinians in Gaza “much easier”.
“This will no doubt help enable a huge part of people’s lives to travel outside the Gaza Strip for whatever reason such as seeking medical treatment, undertaking a scholarship in a university, and leisurely travel,” he said.
“The movement of products will be facilitated quicker and will make it easier for import and export trade,” he added.
Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesperson, echoed his counterpart.
“We hope that handing over control would lead to a better quality of life for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,” he told Al Jazeera.
He stressed that handing over control was not a security issue, but rather a logistical one.
Governing the ‘mega-prison’
However, Alaa Tartir, the programme director of the Palestinian policy network Al-Shabaka, said that the transfer of administrative border control “does not necessarily translate into a meaningful national reconciliation and unity”.
“Assuming that the mere replacement of personnel at the borders and crossings will lift the siege on Gaza is a naive and dangerous assumption,” Tartir said.
“It is a test to examine the fragility or durability of the recent reconciliation agreement.”
“It is crucial to acknowledge that Israel, as an occupying power, will remain the de facto holder of power over borders and crossings,” he continued.
“This will only change when the Israeli occupation ends. The Hamas-Fatah infighting about who will ‘manage’ the borders and crossings is merely a fight about who will ‘govern’ the mega-prison.”
Since Hamas took over in 2007, Israel has imposed an air, naval and land blockade on the Gaza Strip, a stretch of land measuring 51km in length and 11km in width. Earlier this year, the PA added pressure on Hamas’ government by requesting Israel to cut off its electricity supply to Gaza.
A matter of protocol
Qawasmeh said that the closure of the border crossings was due to the absence of a “legitimate government” and that things are finally “going back to normal”.
He also said that the actual transfer of border control would not have much pomp and fanfare.
“The process of handing over control is just a matter of protocol,” Qawasmeh said. “The real case is the decision of Hamas – which up until now has been positive – to completely transfer all powers to the national unity government as was stipulated in the latest reconciliation agreement.”
The next round of reconciliation talks will take place in Cairo on November 21, where Qassem and Qawasmeh said the discussion would focus on logistics of administration and security of the Gaza Strip.
-Additional reporting by Farah Najjar