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.
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"The closure in its current form is not a great success. We've just made Coca Cola more expensive,'' says Ayreh Eldad, a parliament member from the far-right National Union Party. "I don't see any use in saying... you can't bring in herbs or vegetables." He said restrictions should be imposed only on potential military equipment.Skip to next paragraph
Mr. Eldad said he does not, however, support lifting the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued two weeks ago that such a move would result in creation of an Iranian port in Gaza that could threaten Europe.
The new border regime was reportedly drawn up in talks between Israel and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who is the envoy of the "Quartet'' of international sponsors of the Arab Israeli peace process.
Government action would put the government at odds with prevailing public opinion. A recent survey found that 71 percent of Israeli Jews said the siege on Gaza should not be lifted, according to a poll last week by the conservative daily newspaper, Israel Hayom.
"Israeli politicians are finally awakening to the reality that world public opinion is an integral part of public diplomacy, and without it Israel is up the creek without a paddle,'' says Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster. "Israel is starting to feel very isolated, and Israelis don't like that feeling.''
Israel is also believed to be mulling proposals for international monitors to participate in supervision of its borders with Palestinian territories, though it isn't clear which crossings are being considered.
The debate in Israel over the future of the economic blockade stirred up tensions with Egypt, a partner in the blockade. Earlier this week, Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Israel should completely shut off all links with Gaza and encourage Egypt to build a commercial crossing on its border with Gaza and provide water and electricity currently supplied by Israel.
That triggered a curt statement from the Egyptian foreign ministry: "There is an Israeli official thought which aims at renouncing its responsibility towards the Gaza Strip and dumping it on Egypt….Which is a matter that Egypt totally rejects.''
Though Egypt opened its civilian crossing with Gaza partially in the wake of the flotilla, most Gazans still can't leave and enter the territory at the Rafah border. Despite criticism in the Arab world, Egypt and Israel share a common interest in pressuring Hamas, an affiliate of the Egyptian opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Israel responded that Katz's comment doesn't reflect the position of the government.
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