‘Easing’ of Gaza blockade not a great concession
It's not enough to satisfy foreign opinion - but it's quite sufficient from most Israelis' point of view
That Israel should announce an 'easing' of the Gaza blockade comes as no surprise. After the PR debacle of the raid on the Freedom Flotilla, the state's leaders had little choice but to make a concession. But the devil is in the detail.
The consensus among aid groups and charities working in the region is that Israel's offer has fallen far short of what is required to bring about serious improvements to Gazans' living conditions, leaving the 1.5 million residents of the besieged Gaza Strip in no less destitute a state than before.
Restrictions on food and household items such as kitchen items and towels will be lifted, but there is no concession on construction materials - and the naval blockade stays in place.
Oxfam's response to the announcement was to declare it "a far cry from the full lifting of the blockade that is urgently needed", highlighting the need for the international community to continue to press for a total end to the restrictions.
Hamas have denounced the concession as merely "window dressing"; the EU's cautious view was that the move was simply "a step in the right direction".
At home, Israel's government is under far less pressure to end the blockade than it is from abroad. Israeli citizens' attitudes towards Gaza are largely influenced by the barrage of rockets fired for years by Hamas militants and their proxies at Israeli towns and cities; the visceral fear of further attacks prevents Israelis seeing any concessions to Hamas-ruled Gaza as strategically beneficial.
On the beachfront in Tel Aviv yesterday afternoon, there was little love lost for the people of Gaza. The animosity is born not out of an irrational racist streak towards Palestinians, but as a result of years of trepidation that any compromise with Hamas will only further embolden the group's leaders and encourage them to step up their war against Israel.
"We gave them back their land [via the Gaza disengagement in 2005], they thanked us by giving us Kassams", said one middle-aged woman, echoing a commonly held view in Israeli society.
"When they are ready for peace, they'll kick out Hamas", added her friend. "While Hamas are still in charge, we know what the people of Gaza stand for".
Opponents of the siege consistently claim that the ongoing blockade plays into the hands of Hamas by further alienating the Gazan electorate and driving them into the welcoming arms of militant groups. However, by the same token decades of terror attacks on Israeli soil have sent ordinary Israelis lurching to the right when it comes to choosing their leaders.
Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisers know full well the political price they would pay should they concede ground to Hamas and be repaid by a new wave of terrorism. So they opt to play it safe - domestically - in the short term and present a bold and belligerent front to their Palestinian counterparts.
Yesterday's announcement was a necessary PR move to head off the mounting waves of international criticism. But, given the limited scope of the blockade-easing measures, it is clear that Israel's determination to stick to its guns is as strong as ever. ·
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