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Easing the Gaza Blockade
The New York Times
June 22, 2010
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has made the right decision to significantly ease Israel’s punishing and counterproductive blockade of Gaza. The move was clearly intended to mollify Washington and Europe in the wake of Israel’s deadly raid this month on an aid flotilla trying to run the blockade.
If done right, and managed correctly, it should improve the lives of 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip without compromising Israel’s security. It should also focus more international attention, criticism and pressure on Hamas, which continues to rocket Israeli cities and refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist.
Israel has a responsibility to its citizens to stop the delivery of all weapons and rockets to Hamas. But the near-total blockade of Gaza — mattresses, many foods and even toys have been on the list of banned imports — has caused widespread suffering and given Hamas more excuses for its excesses and mismanagement.
The militant group also takes a large cut of the profits from the extensive networks that smuggle in everything from cars to missiles through tunnels underneath the border with Egypt. Mr. Netanyahu has rightly refused to abandon the sea blockade of Gaza. He cannot do that until Hamas stops rocketing Israeli cities and towns.
Mr. Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel “seeks to keep out of Gaza weapons and war-supporting matériel” but that “all other goods would be allowed into Gaza.” Israeli officials, who need to translate that commitment into policy, should take their prime minister at his expansive word.
The best course, and one Israeli officials say they will now follow, is to create a short list of items banned for security reasons, and allow in everything else. Right now the list of banned goods is huge, constantly shifting, and often not even publicly available.
Israeli officials also promised to streamline the entry and exit of Palestinians for humanitarian and medical reasons and of international aid workers.
Gazans need everything including more food and medicine. They need construction materials to rebuild homes destroyed in the 2008-2009 Gaza war.
Israel had sharply curbed deliveries of cement and steel, arguing that Hamas would use them to build bunkers or weapons. Under the new plan, more construction supplies will be allowed in, but only for projects approved by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and under international supervision. That makes sense, but the bureaucratic process must not be allowed to stifle needed reconstruction.
Israel needs to implement the new policy quickly and make sure that, unlike now, all decisions and criteria are explained publicly. Unfortunately, some of the good will from the Sunday announcement was erased by Monday’s news that Jerusalem plans to demolish more than 20 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to clear the way for an archaeological park.
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