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Friday, June 18, 2010

Israel easing blockade

This was probably inevitable. Israel's cabinet decided on Thursday to ease the 'blockade' of Gaza.
The security cabinet, which met Thursday for the second time in two days to discuss relaxing the restrictions on Gaza, issued a statement saying it agreed to “liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza; expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision; [and] continue existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war materiel.”

A statement issued after the meeting said the cabinet would decide in the “coming days on additional steps to implement this policy.”

Among the steps expected to be enacted are drawing up a list of goods that are prohibited because of security concerns – rather than the current situation in which only goods on a permitted list are allowed in – and developing a mechanism to ensure that dual-use material is allowed into Gaza only for earmarked projects under the auspices of the UN, the Quartet or a recognized international organization.

According to Barak, the intention of the decision is to allow more goods into Gaza, but always only after an Israeli search of the cargo to ensure that it does not include “weapons, ammunition or materiel that can aid in fighting.”

Barak said the naval blockade would remain in place to ensure that missiles, rockets and other arms are not brought there, and that all ships that wanted to bring goods into Gaza would have to do so via the Ashdod Port, where they could be checked by Israel, as is the case for ships bringing goods destined for Ramallah.

Nevertheless, the security cabinet decision marked a dramatic change in Israel’s policy, in place for the past three years, regarding what is and is not allowed into Gaza.
The result is that all foodstuffs will be allowed into Gaza (you won't hear anymore how the 'poor Palestinians' can't get coriander), but dual use materials like concrete will only be allowed in under supervision that ensures that the concrete is not used to build bunkers for Hamas terrorists.

And the world's reaction? Well, this is rather curious. Here's what the JPost reported during the day on Thursday.
President Barack Obama's chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said Israel's decision Thursday to allow all foods and some construction materials into the Gaza Strip was a "step in the right direction."

Quartet envoy Tony Blair, who has discussed the matter with Netanyahu three times over the last 10 days, welcomed the change of policy, saying it was an important step toward “easing the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.”

Blair released a statement saying, “Israel has the clear right to defend itself and protect its security. The best way to do this is to ensure that weapons cannot reach Gaza, whilst allowing into Gaza the items of ordinary daily life, including materials for the construction of homes, infrastructure and services as the UN have asked, and permitting legitimate business to revive. The decision to allow foodstuffs and household items is a good start.”

He said the Quartet would continue its discussions with Israel to “flesh out” the new policy.

Blair also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Schalit, “whose ongoing detention is totally unjustified.”

The security cabinet, in its statement Thursday, said Israel “expects the international community to work toward the immediate release” of Schalit.

On Friday, the European Union’s high representative Catherine Ashton plans to hold a working meeting in Brussels to explore the revival and expansion of the EU’s past role as a monitoring body regarding goods heading into Gaza.

On Thursday, on the margins of a European Council meeting, she said, “We’ve offered to Israel support, of course, linked to the Palestinian Authority.”

She added, “I look with great interest at what the Israeli government has said, and this is an ‘in principle’ statement at this stage.”

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos said Israel was “moving in the right direction,” and stated the EU’s readiness to work with the parties involved.

In a statement released to the press by the Spanish EU presidency, Moratinos said that the EU wanted “a European presence at crossing points into Gaza to facilitate the arrival of all kinds of goods and individuals.”

At the same time, it will be a guarantee to Israel of “due vigilance and control to ensure that there is no arms smuggling or anything which could be detrimental to the security of the region,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped the cabinet’s decision was a real step toward meeting needs in Gaza.
But the 'Palestinian Authority' and Hamas labeled Israel's moves 'insufficient.'
Nimer Hammad, political advisor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the decision was "insufficient" and called for the reopening of all the border crossings into the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza City, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Israel's decision to allow more goods into the Gaza Strip was designed to "beautify" the blockade and mislead public opinion.

The Palestinians, he said, are not asking for additional goods to be allowed into the Gaza Strip. Rather, they are demanding the complete lifting of the blockade and the reopening of all the border crossings, as well as freedom of movement for all people."
And by late in the day on Thursday, all of those nice statements by Tony Blair had been forgotten by his government.
"It is good that Israel is giving serious consideration to resolving these issues," said a British Foreign Office spokesman. "But further work is needed. We need to see the additional steps still to be announced." EU officials said they were disappointed by the decision.
And that led to Blair backtracking as well.
Tony Blair said the Quartet – the UN, US, EU and Russia – would continue talks with Israel "to flesh out the principles" that had now been agreed. "The decision to allow foodstuffs and household items is a good start."

The EU's foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, urged Israel to ensure that "many, many more goods can get in to Gaza". Diplomats say privately that they fear weeks or months of negotiations lie ahead.

The knotty political issue here is that the US, Britain and the EU all insist they want to end an "unacceptable and unsustainable" blockade but share Israel's goal of seeking to weaken Hamas, which has more or less maintained a de facto ceasefire since last year's war. It still holds the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
The New York Times adds:
A security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said that Thursday’s decision meant there would no longer be any restrictions on foodstuffs going into Gaza, though not in commercial quantities. He added that there might also be a degree of relaxation for products required by the private sector there.

But the government statement offered no retreat on other aspects of the three-year-old blockade, including restrictions on the passage of people in and out of Gaza, exports or the importation of raw materials for the enclave’s largely paralyzed industries. And officials insisted on Thursday that the naval blockade had to remain in place to prevent the smuggling of weapons and other war matériel.
The BBC called to ask me about this on Friday afternoon. I told them that I thought it was inevitable that changes would have to be made and that having a list of prohibited items rather than a list of permitted items wasn't necessarily a bad thing. But I also said that I am extremely nervous over the prospect of 'dual use' items making it into Gaza without monitoring. You all may recall that this past week, Israeli intelligence reported that Hamas has been using concrete imported through the Rafah crossing to build command and control bunkers. It is inevitable that in the next war (and there will be a next war since Olmert, Livni and Barak didn't finish the job eighteen months ago), we will face a Hamas bunker system much like Hezbullah's system in southern Lebanon.

I don't even have to ask what could go wrong.


At 5:50 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - Israel's caving in on the land blockade didn't even buy it foreign goodwill. Israel should not expect any other country to defend its sovereignty. If it won't uphold it itself, it won't be an independent country much longer. Is there ANY red line Israel's leaders won't cross to maintain the country's right to defend itself? It appears there isn't one. And all Israeli concessions do is simply postpone the next round of pressure on the Jewish State. The world wants Israel to agree to the establishment of an Iranian port on the Mediterranean. And if Israel gives in on it, its only a matter of time until the next Middle East war breaks out.

What could go wrong indeed


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