Friday, August 16, 2013

This week I had an email conversation with the COGAT Gaza spokeswoman about the precise process of how goods get transferred into Gaza.

Here is how it works. (These are mostly COGAT's words, I edited them from multiple emails):

When a Gaza businessman wants to order goods from Israel privately, his first stop would be at the PA offices. There, there's a committee that is in charge of integrating all the requests and putting them in order, the Civil Committee of the PA, according to the format that is familiar to both sides. After that, it is that committee's job to pass a list of trucks that are to cross the next day. The head of the civil committee is in direct contact with the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) and they work with him closely every day, through phone calls and meetings, in order to make the work process efficient. The PA committee is the CLA's POC, but it is not the one ordering the goods.

When the lists are received at the Gaza CLA, they get to the approval process, and once they are approved they are passed to the CLA's representatives at Kerem Shalom, who are the first to receive the truck drivers the next morning.

As of today, the capacity of Kerem Shalom is 400 trucks per day. Due to the number of requests from the PA Civil Committee the number of trucks crossing per day never reaches 400. It can go up to 300 trucks on a good day.

Of course, if the Palestinian side would like to add more trucks to cross at Kerem Shalom, they're free to do so. The Israeli side will make its arrangements to meet the demands.

Unfortunately, many trucks are a no show at the crossing, for Palestinian personal matters. The trucks are coordinated, and are on the list, but every day the CLA sees a large number of blank forms for trucks that never crossed. That depends almost entirely on the Palestinians. Should they decide to cancel a truck for whatever reason, the CLA only knows about it at the end of the day, when they sum up the merchandise that went through. (It appears possible that the Israeli seller might renege sometimes as well, but that doesn't appear to be the normal case.)

The Palestinian businessmen do their coordination with Israeli private companies on their own. They only interact with COGAT (through the PA) when it comes to making sure the goods actually cross.

My comments:

While Kerem Shalom can handle 400 trucks a day, and perhaps 300 actually are hired typically, often dozens of the expected trucks never make it, for whatever logistical reasons that the Gazans canceled the delivery at the last minute. Last week about 10% of the expected trucks did not arrive.

The upshot is that Kerem Shalom is not being run at capacity - not even close. If Israel's "siege" was so painful, one would expect that the crossing would be over capacity and that there would be pressure to expand it. But even now that Egypt has cracked down on smuggling, Kerem Shalom is not close to its limit. It has increased transfers markedly, from 4700 in February to 6600 in July, but it can handle far more.

It seems apparent that Hamas prefers goods to be sent through Rafah than from Israel, for a number of reasons. One is that the PA is not involved in Rafah tunnels. Another is that Hamas can tax tunnel goods at will. Yet another is that fuel and some other smuggled goods are cheap because Egypt subsidizes them, so Hamas can buy things like construction material and diesel at a discount. And the fourth is that Israel happily ships goods to businessmen and to NGOs, but not to Hamas. (Also, dual-use materials are still restricted so Hamas has no choice but to smuggle those.)

People and businesses in Gaza don't need that many imports from Egypt - but Hamas does.

The simple fact is that if Gaza was suffering from a "crushing siege," Kerem Shalom would be operating at capacity. It isn't.

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