The border crisis in Gaza brings out a previously concealed dimension of the Palestinian problem: the problem is not Israel’s only. Though many condemn Israel for blockading Gaza, Arab Egypt does exactly the same. Gaza is blocked both from the Israeli and Egyptian sides.

Previously, Egypt blamed Israel’s control of the Egypt-Gaza border for the Palestinian troubles. Later, EU border monitors were the scapegoat for the hardships. But after the brave EU monitors fled the Rafah Crossing following Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, Egypt appeared one on one with the Palestinians.

For some time, Egypt attempted to gloss over the obvious PR disaster: the major Arab country cooperating with Israel to oppress the Palestinians. Hamas had to keep quiet on the matter in return for Egypt’s hands-down attitude toward border security. Rafah was closed for commercial shipment, but Hamas enjoyed a free flow of weapons and contraband goods through tunnels from Egypt.

Israel turned up the heat on Egypt by pushing it to close the tunnels. After that measure strained the Egypt-Hamas relationship, Israel completely blockaded Gaza, and left Hamas no choice but to abandon its tacit cooperation with Egypt. Hamas correctly chose the PR effect over being nice to Egypt, and blew up the border barrier.

The border debacle placed Egypt in an exceedingly uncomfortable situation: Egypt pushed Gaza’s Arabs, besieged by Israel, back into the blockaded ghetto. Not even Mubarak’s regime, simultaneously harsh and popular, can withstand such a PR assault for long.

Egypt realized it had to divest from Gaza decades before Israel followed suit. Gaza cannot form a viable state—throngs of uprooted refugees make it ungovernable, Arabs cannot maintain high-end agriculture there like Jewish farmers to make Gaza self-sufficient, and agriculture cannot employ most Gazans.

Egypt has a great interest in isolating Gaza’s throngs. Just like the PLO destabilized Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia, Gazans would destabilize Egypt if allowed there. Egypt has a hard time battling the local Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak loves to see his radical Muslims venting their feelings on the Palestinian issue. The last thing he wants is for Hamas, the militant offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Qassam Brigades—the violent offshoot of Hamas—to roam Egypt.

Sinai is Egypt’s ungovernable soft underbelly, flush with criminal Bedouin and militant members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Little has changed there since pharaonic times: the vast mountainous spaces are not susceptible to police or limited military control. Hamas in Sinai is Mubarak’s nightmare. If radical Muslims take hold of Sinai, Egypt would rather abandon the place, or even cede it to the Palestinians, rather than try enforcing the law there and suffering Israeli diplomatic and possibly military pressure for Islamist actions originating from Sinai. Egypt’s response to a Hamas invasion or infiltration is unpredictable because it entirely depends on one man’s—Mubarak’s—mind. The response could be anything from giving the Gazans Sinai to crushing them with tanks; intra-Arab atrocities are a brothers’ quarrel.

Hamas’ response is also unpredictable. Hamas might realize its threat to march half a million Gazans through the border with Israel, marching perhaps on Sderot. Rallying them would be difficult: Gazans breached the border with Egypt for commerce. Much smaller numbers would be available for a purely ideological intrusion into Israel; many will doubt the feasability of plundering Sderot.

Hamas will try keeping the border with Egypt open at least for a trickle of goods and migration, if not wide open. If Hamas succeeds, the situation in Gaza will quickly normalize, greatly improving Hamas’ ratings. Given the threat of another mass breach, Egypt would probably allow minor traffic to and from Gaza.

Egypt has normalized its relations with the almost-nuclear Iran, and Iran supports Hamas. If Egypt’s border with Gaza remains open, Iran will sneak in with fuel, money, and not-so-clandestine weapons deliveries. Egyptian charities, too, will deliver foodstuffs and fuel to Gazans.

Hamas’ stake in keeping the border with Egypt open is huge. The stake amounts to the difference between Hamas’ victory and its demise. In breaching the border, Hamas again proved itself a capable, ingenious, daring organization. Fatah is dull, doomed, and incapable of such brilliant operations.

Israel can do little to pressure Egypt into completely closing the border with Gaza. America can do more, but it still cannot force Egypt to blockade the Arab enclave indefinitely.

We may not like Hamas, but there is no alternative to negotiating with it.

Israel cannot blockade Gaza