Israel eases its siege

Disastrous attack on aid flotilla forces reassessment of policy

The news last week that Israel had decided to ease its punishing blockade of Gaza was welcome for many reasons. First and foremost, if carried out with sincerity, it will mean some relief of the tremendous suffering the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza have been experiencing since the Israeli invasion of January 2009.

Second, the decision suggests that Israel is beginning to realize that its approach to Gaza and the ruling Hamas faction has been counterproductive, relying on force when more subtle measures are needed. The attack a month ago on a relief flotilla that killed nine people, most of them from Turkey, has done lasting damage to Israel’s relationship with that country, formerly its best and most important Middle Eastern ally. Israel finally seems to understand that it cannot afford to follow such a self-destructive path.

Also, in response to the near-total blockade that keeps many of life’s essentials out of Gaza, an extensive smuggling network has emerged that makes use of dozens of tunnels under the border with Egypt. Hamas taxes the smugglers and uses the money to its own ends. The blockade has accomplished nothing, except to make life miserable for Gazans.

Israel is clearly justified in attempting to stop the smuggling of weapons and war-supporting matériel, but that is as far as it goes. Even after easing the blockade, Israel continues to prohibit many goods, from livestock and fresh meat to musical instruments and sewing machines. Most important, building materials, desperately needed following the 2008-09 Israeli invasion that destroyed thousands of homes and other buildings, continue to be blocked, though Israel has stated they eventually will be allowed.

Israel was once known for the creativity of its foreign policy, but lately it’s become predictable in its tendency to lash out with force in a manner that is ultimately self-defeating. It’s an understandable proclivity, given the threats Israel long has faced, but it isn’t working to make Israel safer. That can only happen when the country becomes serious about freezing settlements and adopting the two-state solution.