Comment at end
UPDATES, 13th June
- Blair challenges Hamas – “door is open”.
- A Haaretz’s report by Barak Ravid cited at UNTruth quotes Mahmoud Abbas as telling Obama last Wednesday that he is “against Israel lifting the naval blockade”. UNTruth concludes that Abbas is thus “backing Israeli sanctions against his own people!” The Ravid report is here.
- Tony Blair today welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu’s differentiation between Israel’s obligation to defend itself and, on the other hand, the need to enable Gaza Strip residents to receive goods and equipment for daily life. Blair said he hoped it would lead to a policy which would keep arms out of Gaza while enabling residents to get hold of vital products. The former UK prime minister spoke after Netanyahu’s speech during a government meeting. (Roni Sofer)
- Today Blair spoke to the German Foreign Minister on lifting the blockade.
11th June 2010
Whether this, as reported by Haaretz, turns out to be another false dawn or grand gesture soon to be put aside, we will know soon enough. But at first glance it certainly looks like Mr Blair has persuaded Mr Netanyahu that getting the international community onside regarding the difficulties encountered over Gaza is in Israel’s interests.
Netanyahu and Tony Blair meet in Jerusalem to discuss Gaza blockade, means to increase import of civilian goods, end weapons smuggling, PM’s office says.
By Reuters and Barak Ravid
Israel said on Friday it wants to enlist global support to improve the flow of civilian goods to the blockaded Gaza Strip, while seeing to it that weapons do not reach the Hamas-ruled territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under rising pressure to ease Israel’s three-year siege on Gaza since a deadly raid on a Turkish-backed aid ship destined for the enclave last month, held talks on the issue with Middle East envoy Tony Blair.
“The aim of the meeting was to recruit international support behind the principle that weapons and military supportive material will not reach Gaza or Hamas, while humanitarian and civilian goods may reach the area and its residents via additional means,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
Israel further eased restrictions on goods to Gaza this week by announcing it would permit additional food items such as snack foods and carbonated beverages to be imported via Israeli-controlled crossings, starting next week.
The announcement was made on Wednesday as U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held talks in Washington about the Gaza embargo, as highlighted by the lethal May 31 raid, and ways to advance Middle East peace talks.
In the seaborne incident, Israeli soldiers shot dead nine Turkish protesters after being assaulted with knives and clubs when they boarded the humanitarian aid vessel to prevent it from breaching the blockade to reach Gaza’s coast.
A variety of goods enter Gaza from neighboring Egypt as well, but aid groups have warned of a looming humanitarian disaster in the area, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, due to Israel’s restrictions on goods transiting its crossings.
Israel says the embargo it imposed when Hamas wrestled power over the Strip in a bloody coup in 2007 is aimed at preventing weapons from reaching the Iranian-backed Islamists who have refused peace initiatives with Israel.
Israel has also largely banned cement imports into Gaza, which has limited efforts to rebuild homes damaged in a three-week war launched in late 2008 with the stated aim of curbing cross-border rocket fire.
DEVIL IN THE DETAIL?
If this is a genuine breakthrough, and Israel is ready to hand over (some) responsibilty to the international community, the devil may yet be in the details. But it follows Mr Blair’s and Mr Obama’s words over the last few days. The Quartet’s Middle East envoy has been clearly piling on the pressure on Israel to “open up” Gaza.
On a recent Newsnight interview (watch clip) asked if there could be a Palestinian state without Gaza, he said, “No, there is only going to be one Palestinian state, not two, and it’s got to include both Gaza and the West Bank together. Any strategy that’s based on putting Gaza to one side is not going to work. ”
You can watch the entire Newsnight programme from Wednesday 9th June here.
[See from about 26 minutes into this 51 minute programme.]
“Middle East envoy and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair talks to Newsnight’s Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban about whether there is any prospect of pursuing peace in the Middle East by pushing the Gaza Strip to one side. It focuses on the growing independence and economic development of the West Bank.”
While the international community has been focussed on Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has been building a virtual state. Under the control of the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, these developments of infrastructure, homes and business has been ongoing for the last two years. Fayyad says it is a “vote of confidence”.
Blair has always said that building from the bottom up is the only way. This approach seems to have been proved correct in the West Bank.
[At around 37 minutes Mr Blair talks of his “constant pleas” to the Israelis, for “dignity and justice for the Palestinians.”]
THE LANGUAGE OF DIPLOMACY TAKES SEVERAL FORMS
At the end of this SkyNews video interview which reports that our Foreign Secretary William Hague says the blockade is “justified”, but Obama says it is “unsustainable”, Mr Blair says the blockade is “counter-productive”.
US President Barack Obama called it “inherently unsustainable” and Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has said it was “unjustified”. Middle East Quartet Envoy Tony Blair told Sky News it was counter-productive.
Mr Blair said: “We need now to come to a definitive position that allows us to say very clearly Gaza is in a very different situation because of the Hamas takeover but nonetheless the people in Gaza should have access to the normal things of normal life.”
All true, of course. Regardless of international aid as regards supplying Gaza, we still have several seemingly untractable problems.
- Hamas refuses to recognise Israel right to exist.
- Hamas has allies in the region of a like mind regarding Israel’s right to exist.
- Israel wants the release, or at the very least access to Gilad Shalit, their soldier captured by Hamas almost four years ago.
- Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ruled out lifting the blockade until concessions were made by Hamas on access to Gilad Shalit.
“We must say clearly that the minimal condition for lifting the blockade is for the Red Cross to be allowed to regularly visit Gilad Shalit,” Mr Lieberman said.
On forts press release there is, significantly, NO mention of Mr Shalit.
Perhaps this international aid aspect really IS a breakthrough today in Jerusalem, surprising as it will be if Israel is seen to be giving up some of its sovereignty. Onthe other hand Israel may insist that international aid will still have to come in through the blockade.
We await Gaza’s response.
- Sarkozy to meet Abbas next week
- Germany & Italy want Middle East Quartet in Gaza probe
- This follows on from Abbas telling a Washington thinktank yesterday that faith in the two-state process was eroding
- Pressed to end embargo Israel seeks a new policy
- Losing Turkey
- Can Israel learn how to make its case?
- Flotilla sickness & the ‘progressive’ mind
- The shifting sands of the Middle East
Tags: Abbas, Barak Ravid, Benjamin Netanyahu, Blair to Hamas, blockade, breakthrough, flow of goods to Gaza, Gaza, Gilad Shalit, global support, Haaretz, Israel News, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Mark Urban, middle east peace envoy, newsnight, Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, Sarkozy, Tony Blair