Sunday, June 20, 2010

Turning the lightbulb on the Gaza blockade

The Israeli cabinet has acted on Netanyahu's agreement with Tony Blair last week to alter the terms of the Gaza blockade.  The key difference is that the blockade will be defined by what materials are banned, rather than by what materials are permitted. That is, if the arms blockade is a lightbulb, the Israelis have decided o turn the bulb rather than the stool on which the bulb-changer stands. From Haaretz:
The PMO said that Israel would release "as soon as possible" a detailed list of goods that would not be allowed into the Gaza Strip, which would include all weapons.

"Israel seeks to keep out of Gaza weapons and material that Hamas uses to prepare and carry out terror and rocket attacks toward Israel and its civilians," Netanyahu said. "All other goods will be allowed into Gaza."

Israel's new policy will allow an inflow of construction material into the Gaza Strip for projects approved by the Palestinian Authority or under the auspices of international supervision, including schools, health facilities, water treatment and sanitation, the statement said.

Israel also said it would keep the right to ban "dual-use" construction materials that could be used by Hamas to manufacture weapons and to rebuild its military facilities.

The change in policy is also aimed at improving economic activity in the coastal territory, said the PMO. The new policy was also to allow humanitarian aid to be brought into Gaza in a more effective way and to ease movement in and out of the coastal territory, said the PMO.

Israel would consider further easing its siege as the situation on the ground improved, said the PMO. It would also continue to inspect every item brought to the Ashdod Port bound for the Gaza Strip. 
Other keys aspects: 1) attempting to bolster Palestinian Authority rather than Hamas (which naturally denounced the deal); 2) "smarter" restrictions on construction materials; and 3) more broadly, an apparent attempt to end the near-total freeze on economic activity in Gaza.

The U.S. praised the change and immediately rescheduled the Netanyahu-Obama meeting that was postponed after the Mavi Marmora raid.   Since that firestorm, the U.S. has balanced its protection of Israel in the U.N. Security Council with assertions that the Gaza blockade as constituted was "unsustainable."

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