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March 19, 2006
The Karni Crossroads

A vital trade route for Gaza has taken center stage this morning in the media as both the AP and the Washington Post focus on the passage as a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. The Karni trade route has been closed for months despite the work of Condoleezza Rice to broker an agreement between the PA and Israel to maintain the flow of goods and money, an example of the catch-22 that the Palestinians have inflicted on themselves in this conflict. The AP reports:

With Palestinians facing a dire shortage of bread, milk and other essentials, U.S. officials summoned Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to an emergency meeting Sunday to resolve a standoff over Gaza's main cargo crossing.

But the Palestinian's economic misery was liable to deepen as Hamas militants sworn to Israel's destruction prepared to formally present their new Cabinet to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later in the day. The group's failure to bring moderate forces into its government is likely to strengthen Western resolve to cut off desperately needed aid.

Palestinian officials have accused Israel of closing the vital Karni cargo crossing for most of the past two months as retribution for Hamas' sweep of parliamentary elections in January.

Israeli officials deny the accusation, saying they have received numerous warnings that Palestinian militants are preparing to attack the site. Israeli also has offered an alternative crossing that the Palestinians reject.

What the AP's Ibrahim Barzak takes out of his reporting is that the Palestinians still have not halted attacks on Israel from Gaza, leaving the Israelis with little choice but to either retake Gaza or close it off entirely. The Post's Scott Wilson includes it in a larger look at the economic consequences of the showdown over Karni:

As those sources dry up in Gaza, an economy dependent on public salaries, agriculture and foreign aid to sustain its 1.3 million people is already lifeless. Regular rocket fire into southern Israel, carried out by the radical group Islamic Jihad, has turned the northern strip into an artillery range. Prices have soared in stores as the supply of flour, sugar and dairy products that come from Israel is constantly interrupted.

The Palestinian economy relies on the goodwill of Israel and the sympathy of the Quartet, especially the US. When the Palestinians continue attacking the hands that literally feed them, it should provide no surprise that the flow of food, money, and economic stability comes to a standstill.

Israel faces tremendous pressure to knuckle under to demands from the Palestinians and the Quartet to allow at least "humanitarian" aid through Karni, but while it remains under attack and while the PA refuses to do anything to stop it, all this does is ask Israel to be complicit in its own destruction. Israel certainly understands the history of Western democracies hell-bent on appeasement of terrorists. All anyone has to do is read about the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938-9 by Britain and France in its zeal to appease Nazi Germany to comprehend why Israel has thus far resisted the pressure to open Karni again while the rockets fly.

Israel has offered another checkpoint, Kerem Shalom, as an alternative. A look at the map of the region shows why Israel wants to relocate the traffic in this southernmost section of the Gaza Strip. The Karni checkpoint sits in the northeastern section of Gaza where the attacks have occurred, positioned just a few miles outside of Gaza City and its large and restive population. The security forces would have a hell of a time trying to hold back a determined charge through Karni, and while the PA continues to allow Islamic Jihad to rain artillery into Israel, that consideration has to be taken into account.

Kerem Shalom, on the other hand, sits on the Israeli-Egyptian border and just south of the PA-Egyptian border crossing of Rafah. It pushes the security risk much farther away from israeli strategic sites and population centers, and its proximity to the border allows the IDF to contain the threat by pressing it against Egypt. The Palestinians complain that Kerem Shalom does not have the capacity for transport, but the maps show established roads leading from the checkpoint to the major centers of Kiryat Ga and Be'er Sheva. The Palestinians' objections appear to be the longer route necessary, but probably more that the distance negates any possible exploitation of economic trade as a cover for a broad-based attack.

The Israelis have a right to be concerned about their security. Not only have the Palestinians refused to disarm Islamic Jihad and stop their attacks, their electorate just voted another terrorist group into power, one that refuses to recognize Israel's existence at all and which still proclaims their goal of Israel's destruction. Would we negotiate trade agreements with Iran and send them food, money, and jobs while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holds conferences on how to rid the world of America? Of course not, and it's ludicrous to force Israel to do the same with the Palestinians while they remain determined for war.

I agree that the closure of Karni and the end of the Olso-based tax transfers will bring economic ruin to the Palestinians. They should have included that in their calculations when they chose Hamas and their radical-Islamist terror platform as their government. The Palestinians faced their own Karni crossroad, and it appears they chose the wrong path.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 19, 2006 9:57 AM

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