Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Abbas takes credit for opening Rafah. Did Olmert allow it?

A few interesting wrinkles on the story:
The moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is in Cairo and raised the pilgrims' plight in a meeting with Mubarak, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

"The Egyptians completely coordinated their return with the Israeli side," Malki said.

"We asked Egypt to help, and the president (Mubarak) said he would do his best, and he did," said Nabil Shaath, an Abbas aide who attended the meeting.
PalPress, autotranslated:
In turn spokesman said Fatah Fahmi Azaaarir that President Abbas "Abu Mazen" made a great effort with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to solve the problem of pilgrims from the Gaza Strip and ensure their return to their homes as urgent humanitarian issues in the first degree.

He added in a statement Azaaarir journalist arrived in Palestine Press News Agency a copy of "Hamas tried to exploit the issue politically and pilgrims rejected accusations put forward by officials in Hamas coup against Egypt despite all what Egypt for the Palestinian cause and humanity."
Meanwhile, Mubarak and Abbas also discussed the plight of more than 2,000 Palestinian pilgrims who were stranded on Egyptian territories pending authorization to return to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing point.

But as the leaders talked, the Egyptian authorities had already agreed to reopen the Rafah point ahead of allowing the pilgrims to make their passage.
Also from PalPress:
Israeli political sources said today that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has approved quietly to Egypt for the opening of the Rafah crossing to solve the problem of pilgrims trapped in Egypt since week. "

And the relocation of Israeli military intelligence sources as saying that "Olmert does not want Hamas to exploit this crisis and the approaching visit of the American President George Bush to the region."

The sources added that "Egypt informed Israel intends to open the Rafah crossing to the Gaza Strip and pilgrims but Israel gave approval for a quiet opening to pilgrims."

These developments came pilgrims crossing and also following his talks Palestinian President who visited Cairo today and make unremitting efforts to end the crisis pilgrims.
Their return was similarly unmonitored. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has apparently decided not to kick up a fuss for fear of provoking violent Hamas outbreaks that would spoil US president George W. Bush’s visits to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, starting Jan. 8.

Cairo claims Israel was notified of its reversal but made no response, while Jerusalem denies being informed. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who flew to Cairo to press Egypt to give way to Hamas, Tuesday, Jan. 1, claims Israel was informed.

Israeli security sources further report that Egypt took advantage of Israel’s blind eye to get rid of 300 Palestinian terrorists, who were detained in Sinai - some of them al Qaeda and its allied Fatah al Islam activists, who were smuggled in from Lebanon. They entered Gaza under cover of the returning pilgrim group.
A security source in the Palestinian de facto government in Gaza Strip told Ma'an that dozens of Fatah activists who fled the Gaza Strip after the Hamas takeover in June 2006 have entered the coastal enclave along with the Hajj pilgrims.

The security source told Ma'an that Hamas security forces arrested dozens of the Fatah fugitives for "security reasons," as several of them were suspected of crimes, including corruption.
Things are very muddy, to say the least. Did Olmert tacitly agree to allow Rafah to be opened to avoid an embarrassing episode when Bush visits? Did Mubarak and Olmert set it up to give Olmert plausible deniability? It sounds like something Olmert would do, and his denials also sound like something he would do.

Did Abbas really appeal to open Rafah, or is he trying to take credit after the fact? My guess is the latter, especially given the Earthtimes report above.

There is no question that Hamas is the real winner in this whole sorry episode, but no matter how you slice it Egypt has consistently chosen to side with Hamas from early December to now.