Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Blog

After worldwide pressure, Israel announced on Sunday that it was making changes to its nearly 4-year old blockade on Gaza. In theory, the new Israeli protocol will allow items into Gaza unless they appear on a list of banned items. Israel asserts that only materials which could threaten Israel's security will continue to be banned, while "all other goods" would be allowed in. Yes, this is in sharp contrast to the prior arrangement that all items are barred unless explicitly allowed. However, these changes do not alter reality: an illegal blockade remains in place against 1.5 million people.

While many responded to this underwhelming announcement with praise, criticism or caution, perhaps the most important response was issued by the White House. Released on Sunday as well, the White House statement declared, "We believe that the implementation of the policy announced by the Government of Israel today should improve life for the people of Gaza, and we will continue to support that effort going forward."

However, several facts demonstrate why Israel's approach is entirely inadequate and why the Obama Administration is wrong in supporting it:

  • Israel announced that the amount of goods coming into Gaza would increase by 30% to 140 truckloads per day. Sounds good, but this falls drastically short of the 400 trucks per day that the U.N. has said are needed to meet the "basic needs" of the population.
  • It is unclear at this stage whether the new policy (with its list of "weapons and war materials") will allow for the rebuilding of Gaza's devastated infrastructure, as Israel has not yet published the list of banned items amid wide speculation that much of the needed reconstruction materials would be classified as "dual-use" items and remain barred.
  • Beyond the kinds and amounts of goods allowed in, Israel's siege prevents Palestinians, including Palestinian businesses and hundreds of students who have been accepted into academic institutions abroad, from leaving Gaza, as well as any outside visitors from coming in. What is required is an end to the effective imprisonment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, not just an easing of their humanitarian crisis by allowing a few more goods into the besieged strip.
  • In its easing of the blockade, Israel committed to expand its operations at border crossings to increase the capacity for the inspection and transfer of goods. Again, sounds good. However, President Obama has spoken about the critical need to address the economy in Gaza-but if Gaza can't import and export, there is no economy.

Earlier this month, the fiercely non-political International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for an immediate lifting of the blockade stating, "The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law." On substance alone, it is wholly unclear how the Obama Administration could dispute that simple statement. With their full and immediate support for Israel's cosmetic changes to an illegal blockade, the White House opted for politics over policy and failed to lead.

The only fix now is for the administration to make clear to Israel that the siege on Gaza must be lifted. The administration's welcoming of Israel's modification and a U.S. warning to others against breaking the blockade signal an embrace of the blockade policy itself. This is unacceptable, particularly for an administration that has highlighted the alleviation of the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people as a key part of its Middle East agenda. Israel cannot maintain exclusive control of Gaza's international borders. Such borders must be opened for the free flow of goods and people. It is understood that the inspection of incoming goods, to ensure that no weapons are making their way into the Gaza strip, must occur. And it can be administered with UN partnership and through international cooperation. We can - and should - play an important role in facilitating that, rather than issuing premature statements that will ultimately help maintain the illegal blockade.