After Gaza flotilla raid, Israel close to easing Gaza blockade
An Israeli cabinet meeting on easing the Gaza blockade broke up without a decision today. But it appears the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla raid is forcing Israel to dramatically alter its approach to the Hamas-run enclave.
The Israeli cabinet ended a meeting to discuss abandoning a three-year-old economic blockade of the Gaza Strip without a decision on Wednesday, deferring action until tomorrow even as most signs point to a significant easing of Israeli restrictions on imports of foodstuffs and construction materials into the impoverished Hamas-run territory.Skip to next paragraph
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Israel's looming about face on a policy that is popular with its citizens appears to be a response to the Jewish state's diplomatic isolation since an Israeli commando raid left nine Turkish citizens dead on a flotilla bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Diplomatic prodding from Israeli allies appears to be shifting a policy which few Israelis questioned publicly even in the initial days after the May 31 shooting of the pro-Palestinian activists on the Gaza flotilla.
"It's especially the pressure of those who are considered to be our friends, like the US,'' says Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University. "The [blockade] rules were not logical or coherent… People continued with the rules of the game that seemed to work, but now everything was reopened because the flotilla was a catalyst. It doesn't look too good, I agree.''
The raid put relations with Turkey, once one of Israeli's best friends in the region, into a deep freeze and drawn calls from the European Union for an immediate end to the blockade. The US position has been more supportive of Israel, but US officials have also urged Israel to reduce restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza. Meir Dagan, head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, warned parliament's defense and foreign affairs committee earlier this month that "Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden."
Instead of a blanket ban on imports that included fresh meat while allowing enough food to flow through to prevent widespread hunger, Israel is expected to allow most goods come in save for a list of products which could have military applications.
Did the flotilla win?
In the days following the flotilla raid, Israeli officials warned against concessions, saying that might be interpreted as a political victory for Hamas and its supporter, Iran. Flotilla organizers said their intent was to shed light on what they termed a form of collective punishment on Gaza's residents for their support of Hamas in 2006 Palestinian elections, in the hopes that Israel's policy would change.
Now, even conservative politicians in Israel acknowledge the economic blockade has backfired, hurting Gaza's working poor and middle class while leaving Hamas firmly in control and damaging Israel's international standing.