The hundreds of tunnels (nearly 1,000) linking Gaza to Egypt have played a central role in Gaza’s economy for many years. When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, causing Israel to blockade Gaza, the importance of the tunnels grew exponentially With few items coming in from Israel, many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip relied on the tunnels to provide them with items such as food, cigarettes, household goods, newspapers, and even cars. The problem is that Egypt stated it could not fully open its borders to Gaza, as that would mean recognizing Hamas as the official leader. What this means is that the majority of the goods coming through the tunnels are, though taxed by Hamas, unregulated. This allows for the transfer of weapons, which brings us to Egypt’s recent closing of many of the tunnels. On August 5th, gunmen broke into an Egyptian army base and killed 16 soldiers. Egypt suspects that some of the attackers entered Egypt through these smuggling tunnels which connect Egypt to Palestine. In an attempt to increase Egyptian security, the government has begun shutting down dozens of the tunnels. Recently Hamas delegates met with Egyptian leaders to discuss the fate of the tunnels; they have not yet reached any firm agreements.
Though Israel lets aid and other necessities into Gaza, the tunnels provide many Palestinians with decent-paying (albeit risky) jobs and with a fairly stable supply of necessary goods. Egypt has demolished up to one half of the 225 main tunnels and already the people of Gaza are feeling the affect of these closures. Many Hamas officials want a commercial trade border between Egypt and Gaza, but the fear is that this type of border would allow for more open violence and a mass exodus of Palestinians into Egypt. At the same time, to close the tunnels without providing an alternate means of transporting in goods could cause a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
What does it mean that Egyptian leaders were willing to negotiate with Hamas leaders on this issue? Could their discussions cause any foreign policy conflicts? Where can Egyptian and Hamas officials go from here? (Keep in mind who has the upper hand in the negotiations Also, does Israel have some responsibly in dealing with this issue, and if so, what should it do?