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New Gaza Agreement Met with Cautious Optimism


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's been quite a while since we've been able to say this on the radio: There has been a deal in the Middle East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has brokered an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on border crossings in and out of the Gaza Strip.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): For the first time since 1967, Palestinians will gain control over entry and exit from their territory. This will be through an international crossing at Rafah, whose target opening date is November 25th.

SIEGEL: That's the secretary of State speaking today in Jerusalem. Rafah is the crossing point on the border between Egypt and Gaza. Europeans will help monitor that border crossing. Israel will be allowed to watch via closed-circuit TV. Today's deal also allows the Palestinians to build a seaport in Gaza, and bus convoys will start moving between Gaza and the West Bank.

NORRIS: Sami Abdel-Shafi is a Palestinian businessman in the Gaza Strip. He says the agreement has made him hopeful but not too optimistic.

Mr. SAMI ABDEL-SHAFI (Palestinian Businessman): I think in the short term it does not necessarily present any immediate results. And in the longer term I believe that it may open up opportunities because it may open up the way for further investments and initiation of all kinds of projects in the Gaza Strip. But we are not nearly close to a final solution that enables people and businesses in the Gaza Strip to flourish. So this is a positive sign but not a breakthrough.

NORRIS: So it sounds like you're balancing both optimism and doubt. Which is winning at this point?

Mr. ABDEL-SHAFI: I think doubt is winning so far because we need to see what the implementation stage will bring. After implementation stage, usually Palestinians, especially those in the West Bank and Gaza, came to realize many of the realities, and they were disappointed so many times so frequently that we've learned the hard way to wait until any negotiated solution or agreement is actually implemented before we start to be very optimistic about it. So doubt wins at this time.

NORRIS: How important is freedom of movement for a business like yours?

Mr. ABDEL-SHAFI: It is absolutely essential. To give you a very brief example, the revenue that the business we have registered in reality could have been 40 to 60 percent more if we were free to move. The freedom of movement of people and goods is absolutely essential to the sustainability of any agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.

NORRIS: I want to get your sense of how fragile or how strong you think this agreement might be if--in the event that there is a suicide bombing or any other kind of uprising.

Mr. ABDEL-SHAFI: The risks are always there. And in the event of such an occurrence taking place, that presents a great risk. But the key here is that a great deal depends on how exceptions like this are treated. And in this context I would cite not only the practicalities of this agreement but also the spirit with which this agreement was made. And I'm emphasizing the spirit here because if this agreement is implemented properly and if exceptions such as suicide bombings are also treated in a slightly different way than they used to be treated, then this will open up a new era between Palestinians and Israelis as to how they want to deal with things and how they want to deal with each other.

NORRIS: Sami Abdel-Shafi, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. ABDEL-SHAFI: Thank you.

NORRIS: Sami Abdel-Shafi is the co-founder and senior partner of the Emerge Consulting Group. He spoke to us from Gaza City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.