On 1 November, the Islamist Hamas group officially handed over its border crossings Erez and Kerem Shalom with Israel and Rafah on the Egyptian border to the US-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the occupied West Bank in coordination with Israel. Top officials for border crossings of the PA-ruled Fatah party and Hamas signed the agreement under the supervision of Egypt, which is part of the reconciliation agreement reached between the Palestinian rivals earlier this month (see for more background our article). ‘’We have handed over the crossings with honesty and responsibility, without bargaining and unconditionally,’’ Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said.
The Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings with Israel will be operated by PA employees. At the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, presidential guards of PA President Mahmoud Abbas will be stationed on 15 November. The EUBAM, the European Union border agency, will be supervising the border crossing.
Although the PA is due to take full control of the Gaza security on 1 December, Israeli checkpoints will not be dismantled. Citizens from Gaza still have to apply for an Israeli travel permit and restrictions on goods will be maintained.
UN Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov said the crossings’ transfer is a “landmark development” in the reconciliation process. However, Israel and the US have reservations about the Hamas-Fatah agreement, because the Islamist group refuses to dismantle its armed wing. Furthermore, the US repeated the unity government, which formation will be discussed on 21 November, must recognized the State of Israel and commit to peaceful negotiations. Israel added it would not deal with a government which “relies on Hamas”, because it considers Hamas a terrorist organization. The EU called the handover of the border checkpoints an important step in the implementation of the Hamas-Fatah deal and reiterated it supports the process to reunite the Gaza strip and the West Bank under leadership of the PA.