Foreign pressure worked in forcing Israel to partially life its blockade of Gaza and its Hamas leadership. Now President Obama knows that more pressure can help make progress on peace talks.
An inkling of hope for Middle East peace may be one result of Thursday’s decision by Israel to ease its three-year-old blockade of basic goods for the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
The hope lies not so much in a slightly better life for the poor Gazans – who are nearly totally dependent on aid. Rather, the world can note that this decision was forced upon the Israeli government after its botched May 31 raid on an aid ship bound for the tiny strip of Palestinian land between Egypt and Israel.
Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, such as its expansion of Jewish settlements, continue to isolate the country and to hinder peace talks. They also create problems for the United States in the Arab and Muslim world. After the raid that left nine people dead, the US joined up with Europe, the United Nations, and Russia (“the Quartet”) to open talks with Israel on easing the blockade.
The result of this collective foreign pressure was Israel’s apparently reluctant decision. Food and many other home goods will now be allowed to flow past Israeli checkpoints as will much-needed construction materials for civilian projects – but only those under international supervision.
Israel was correct in continuing to bar shipments of arms and any products that could be used by militants to build bunkers or other military structures. Also, it still needs to block aid ships from hostile nations, especially Iran, although how it blocks those ships will need much more planning and diplomacy.
The thousands of rockets that once rained down on Israeli citizens – a form of terror – cannot be allowed to resume from Gaza. The Strip’s Islamic leaders, Hamas, must somehow be dissuaded from using such terror tactics and to join peaceful efforts to create a homeland for Palestinians.
Israel’s change of heart may indicate that it has abandoned the goal of using the blockade to force deprivation on Gazans and thus turn them against their elected Hamas government.
President Obama must use this diplomatic momentum to push both the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to make the necessary compromises to work toward a two-state solution. He might even lay out his own outline of a plan.
World opinion does matter to Israel, as seen in this latest decision. Israel can still continue to deter hostile actors like Hamas while also pursuing peace.