JERUSALEM – Two months after their organizations reportedly urged U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to pressure Israel into accepting a border deal Israeli officials now call an “abject failure” that is threatening the country’s security, leftist American Jewish leaders said yesterday they stand by their vocal support for the international agreement.
The Jewish leaders made the statements in spite of a WND probe last week that found Rice’s border agreement is currently allowing terrorists to infiltrate the Gaza Strip, where they are poised to attack Israel. WND also found the deal allows Gaza-based terrorists freedom to travel into the nearby Sinai desert, where they can meet with regional jihadists.
“We don’t have any regrets. The Palestinians need their freedom of movement,” Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum, a prominent leftist think tank, told WND.
Reich was one of several leftist Jewish leaders who urged Rice during a meeting prior to her trip here this past November to pressure Israel into signing a deal regarding security at the Rafah crossing, the main checkpoint between Egypt at Gaza. The checkpoint is one of the largest crossings between the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. It has been the scene of rampant Palestinian weapons smuggling the past few years.
Prior to Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August, the Gaza side of the border was entirely controlled by the Israeli Defense Forces. But Rice’s border deal, which Israel accepted reportedly after intense American pressure, restricted the Jewish state to monitor the area by camera, called for a European presence at the border station, and offered the Palestinians some veto power on vehicles and persons entering Gaza.
WND reported at the time just before Rice brokered the deal in November several leftist Jewish groups encouraged her to take a tough line with Israel against settlement expansion and involvement in Palestinian border affairs.
Reich reportedly said after meeting Rice before her Mideast trip: “I have no doubt that we bolstered the secretary of state’s instinct and strengthened her opinion that aggressive American involvement was needed to achieve practical results.”
A source close to the Jewish groups pressuring Rice told WND one senior Jewish leftist leader said to the secretary of state her tough stance against Israel while brokering the Rafah deal will result in strong support from American Jews.
After Rice’s border deal was finalized in November, both Egyptian and Palestinian security forces deployed at the Rafah crossing, and a rotating team of European inspectors was stationed at the border.
New border rules stipulate Israel cannot restrict who leaves Gaza, but it can ask the European monitors to delay for several hours anyone crossing the border if Israel provides immediate information indicating an entrant may be a security threat. The regulations, which sources close to the deal say were partially devised by Rice herself, restrict Israel to rely on security cameras at the border and a list of entrants supplied by the Palestinians.
Israeli security officials told WND last week the cameras at the border are not sufficient to identify entrants, and they said the Palestinians have been failing to supply accurate and timely lists of individuals crossing into Gaza.
“There have been many cases of Israel not getting lists at all,” said a security official. “Or we get them so near the time of arrival we don’t have nearly enough time to ask an entrant to be delayed.”
Israeli security officials charged the Palestinians have tampered with the names of entrants, accusing Palestinian border workers of deliberately disguising the personal information of terrorists crossing the border.
“The result,” one security officials said, “is that the border between Gaza and Egypt is nonexistent.”
Indeed, several senior terrorists based in Gaza told WorldNetDaily the past few weeks they were able to cross into the Sinai and back without a problem.
One terror leader said he went to Egypt for “vacation.”
Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Zahar’s brother, Fadel, entered Gaza through Rafah just day’s after Rice’s border deal was implemented, reportedly bringing with him 13 other wanted terrorists. Fadel Al-Zahar had been deported by Israel to Lebanon in 1991 after he was accused of orchestrating attacks.
According to security officials, there is information indicating some Palestinian terrorists who crossed into the Sinai last month may have met with local jihad cells there before returning to Gaza.
Both Israeli and Palestinian security sources say the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah terror group maintains a presence in the Sinai desert. Israel says Egypt has had difficulty eliminating al-Qaida cells in Sinai suspected of involvement in recent terror attacks, including the bombings in Sharm el Sheikh in July and Taba last year, which together killed more than 100 people.
“It is time to conclude Rice’s Rafah deal is an abject failure,” said an official close to the deal.
But the leftist Jewish leaders who urged Rise to pressure Israel said yesterday their support for the Rafah border deal remains unchanged in spite of information indicating border infiltration is threatening the Jewish state’s security.
Lewis Roth, assistant director of Americans for Peace Now, a popular leftist group supporting final status negotiations to create a Palestinian state, said, “We continue to support the agreement. It was necessary for the Palestinians, who need access to the outside world.”
Roth told WND his organization, which encouraged Rice to pressure Israel on the Rafah deal, is reassessing its support for allowing the Palestinians to build a seaport, which was also called for during the Rafah agreement.
“But the overall support for the deal has absolutely not changed,” said Roth.
One Jewish leader close to the Jewish groups’ talks with Rice, speaking on condition of anonymity, told WND, “I don’t think there was any doubt the Rafah border crossing would fail and damage Israel. Only Israel can provide for its own security.”
Reich of the Israel Policy Forum said, “We support the utility of the Rafah deal. It was the right agreement at the right time.”