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No level-headed politician, who wants to gain regional and international legitimacy, can justify illegitimate or illegal activity without risking his credibility. Therefore, it was very odd that the head of the Hamas politburo Khaled Mishal said that smuggling goods via the tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Rafah in Egypt is a legitimate trade that benefits both sides.

No one is against trade, mutual benefits and the flourishing of economic activity on both sides of the border as long as this is legitimate, legal and carried out by real traders and beneficial to ordinary people not to traffickers and diggers who mix drugs with arms and goods and whose activities lead to a state of instability and the emergence of armed gangs that capitalize on this chaos.

Testimony to that is a short news item that went unnoticed a week ago about a staged protest in the Egyptian city of Al Arish, which is relatively close to the borders. The protest came as an outcry against the apparent security lapse in the wake of the murder of a young man by anonymous gunmen. The protesters demanded that armed gangs be countered and that the culprits be brought to justice.

What’s strange about this tunnel issue, which has gotten bigger and has become synonymous with the rule of Hamas in Gaza following the forced expulsion of the Palestinian Authority, is this persistence to maintain and take pride in the use of tunnels whilst inviting journalists to visit and photograph these sites, as if these tunnels are economic facilities that ought to be introduced to the world.

There are now families that act more like independent businesses by operating those tunnels, collecting fees and paying taxes to Hamas. All that’s left is for the Egyptian side to place customs officers at the other end of the tunnel! It might even be more suitable to reach an agreement with the other side that needs to change its name to “tunnel supervisor.”

Gaza is without doubt under siege from Israel. There is a lot of suffering and the basic requirements of the people of Gaza need to met. However, digging tunnels is not the solution, unless the goal is to practice illegal activities. Many suggestions were made in order to open the borders, all of which is part of the framework of Palestinian reconciliation. A draft proposal was put forward to reinstall PA employees that are recognised both regionally and internationally at the border crossings in order to open the crossing and allow trade to flow in a legitimate manner. Yet the proposal has been rejected and hampered by Hamas ever since it took control of Gaza whose residents have become hostages in the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Fatah.

All Arab and regional efforts exerted with the international community following the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference steered the Palestinian cause away from factionalism and closer towards establishing institutions and towards authority enjoying legitimate and international recognition and would lead to the creation of a sovereign state with clear and controlled borders. Unfortunately however, Hamas tore down those institutions, took steps backwards and reduced the Palestinian cause to Gaza and the border crossings. Now, whilst being stuck in the tunnel controversy, we are beginning to witness political campaigns and religious rulings issued by religious groups in defence of the tunnels.

Amid the silly games that these groups play, one can only emphasise that no respectable and sovereign state would sit by and watch as smuggled goods are being transported across its borders on a daily basis without any control or surveillance, as this would endanger its credibility and legitimacy both internationally and domestically.

Part of the general consensus lies in the ability of the state to maintain sovereignty, especially towards foreign parties. Other than that, anything is negotiable, as long as good intentions and responsibility are shown towards the masses. As for spreading and exporting chaos, this is completely unacceptable and must be prevented.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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