Did the Freedom Flotilla work?

Israel announced today that it will allow civilian goods to enter Gaza and loosen restrictions on freedom of movement:

Senior cabinet ministers on Sunday approved steps toward easing Israel's land blockade of the Gaza Strip, days after Jerusalem had issued a non-binding declaration supporting such a move.

In a statement released following the cabinet vote on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office emphasized that the change would not counter Israel's policy "to defend it citizens against terror, rocket fire or any other hostile activities from Gaza."

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.

The PMO emphasized in its statement that its defense regime along the Gaza border would remain in place and that Israel still sees Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Many reactions to this. The first is simply that it took the courage and lives of the organizers of the Freedom Flotilla to make this happen. The lesson to retain here is that confrontation works, it is not only effective, but necessary. Nothing will be given, you have to take it.

The second is that you have to treat anything that comes from a government that has lied and weaseled its way out of its treaties and international obligations for decades with a grain of salt. The devil will be in the details, such as the list of allowed goods Israel still has to publish and the character and length of the border procedures for people and goods moving in and out. It's crucial to wait to see what this means and how it's implemented.

That, in turn, will influence a bunch of other things. Assuming this does mean a general relaxation of the blockade, but not its lifting altogether, what are the larger consequences?

First there's the political fallout. This might not entirely be a popular move for the Netanyahu government considering the strong backing for collective punishment policies among many Israelis. For Hamas, they have arguable gained very little and potentially lost much face, since they are neither responsible for the blockade being lifted (the Freedom Flotilla and the international community achieved that) and now are back at being isolated but with less obvious ways to play the victims here. Likewise Fatah and the Palestinian Authority really appears ineffective here, and the recent decision by the PA to postpone municipal elections is hardly a sign of confidence.

For the Palestinians and especially people of Gaza, this will be hopefully bringing much relief and enable the reconstruction of the terrible destruction wrought by Israel's Operation Cast Lead. It still leaves impunity for Israel for its actions during that war, and efforts to get the Goldstone Report and other attempts to hold it accountable should be redoubled. But some of the basic rights of the Palestinians, such moving within their country (that is, between the West Bank and Gaza) are still curtailed. They now all have unrepresentative governments that have outlived their mandates, and a leadership that not only appears reluctant to reconcile but may be actively prevented from outside powers from doing so.  

For Egypt, which was again destabilized by the renewed attention to the Rafah border, this will come with some relief. But I wonder for how long — this issue is not going away for long, and a continued spilt Palestinian polity and the unlikeliness of a peace deal makes it ever more likely that Gaza will be dumped on Egypt.

And for the Obama administration, which put out a press release (reproduced below) welcoming the Israeli decision without even a cautious wait-and-see approach, perhaps it means that an embarrassing moment may be over — for now. But while the White House is finally encouraging relieving the blockade and allowing traffic of goods and people between the West Bank and Gaza, it is still ignoring Hamas and Palestinian reconciliation, still ignoring the illegality of the blockade, and now is preparing to welcome Netanyahu — whose army shot and killed an American citizen at point blank range — with open arms in two weeks' time. The name of the game is still West Bank First. It may take another crisis to abandon that policy.

 

Statement by the Press Secretary on Israel’s announcement on Gaza

The President has described the situation in Gaza as unsustainable and has made clear that it demands fundamental change. On June 9, he announced that the United States was moving forward with $400 million in initiatives and commitments for the West Bank and Gaza. The President described these projects as a down payment on the U.S. commitment to the people of Gaza, who deserve a chance to take part in building a viable, independent state of Palestine, together with those who live in the West Bank. These announcements resulted from consultations with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. 

Today, the United States welcomes the new policy towards Gaza announced by the Government of Israel, which responds to the calls of many in the international community.  Once implemented, we believe these arrangements should significantly improve conditions for Palestinians in Gaza, while preventing the entry of weapons. We will work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet, and other international partners to ensure these arrangements are implemented as quickly and effectively as possible and to explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza, including greater freedom of movement and commerce between Gaza and the West Bank.  There is more to be done, and the President looks forward to discussing this new policy, and additional steps, with Prime Minister Netanyahu during his visit to Washington on July 6.

We strongly re-affirm Israel’s right to self-defense, and our commitment to work with Israel and our international partners to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza.  As we approach the fourth anniversary of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, we call again for his immediate release, and condemn the inhumane conditions of his detention. 

We believe that the implementation of the policy announced by the Government of Israel today should improve life for the people of Gaza, and we will continue to support that effort going forward. We urge all those wishing to deliver goods to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza.  There is no need for unnecessary confrontations, and we call on all parties to act responsibly in meeting the needs of the people of Gaza.

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