After five years of besieging Gaza, Israel announced on September 20 the first significant easing of its near-total export ban. The ban was imposed on the Palestinian territory in 2007 after Hamas won elections.
This turnaround amounts to an admission that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is facing defeat, leaving Tel Aviv casting around for an alternative mechanism of control over the battered enclave.
Khatib Mansour, director of the Israeli army’s Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza, said Israel would allow:
* furniture and clothes to be exported from Gaza to the West Bank;
* ten refrigerated trucks for transporting Gaza’s farm produce to enter the strip; and
* the World Food Programme to transport 1.2 million fortified date bars made in Gaza to West Bank schools.
After five years of blocking almost all building material from entering Gaza, Israel has approved the entry of materials for 16 road and school projects sponsored by international aid organisations, Mansour said.
Gaza will also be allowed to import other goods now blacklisted by Israel.
The Israeli official said export and import restrictions would continue to be eased as long as border violence with Gaza militants remained under control.
Just the day before Mansour’s announcement, Gaza had come under missile fire from Israel’s military, which claimed to have killed two “terror operatives” in al-Janeneh.
One of the worst spikes in cross-border hostilities since Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza had taken place the month before. Dozens of Palestinians were killed and injured in a barrage of Israeli missiles, and dozens of homemade rockets were fired back by Palestinian resistance groups, to little effect.
So it seems implausible to suggest, as Mansour does, that the easing of Israel’s blockade on Gaza is connected with an abatement of cross-border hostilities.
Mansour’s announcement came four days into a lengthy visit to Cairo by a top-level Hamas delegation.
Gaza’s premier Ismail Haniya formally requested Egyptian prime minister Hisham Qandil to authorise a free trade zone at Rafah, on their common border. It followed informal talks between Gaza and Cairo about breaking Israel’s siege, begun soon after the landmark election of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi on June 24.
Rafah is Gaza’s only border crossing not controlled by the Israeli military. At present, it is unable to handle the passage of goods. In late August, Morsi’s administration permanently opened Rafah six days a week for Palestinians to exit and enter. This is a major breach of the Israeli siege that had been enforced by Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
This was followed by a fuel transfer from Egypt to Gaza’s power station to alleviate blackouts in the energy-starved territory.
Since the ousting of Mubarak in February last year, and the sacking of his top generals and spies by Morsi in August, the gates of Egypt have been opening to Gaza.
Once Cairo authorises a free trade zone, on top of Rafah’s opening to travellers and Egypt’s energy transfers to Gaza, then Israel’s long siege of the Palestinian enclave will have been comprehensively broken.
Israeli leaders can see defeat looming for their Gaza siege strategy. In response, Israel is easing its blockade. The Israeli state appears to be experimenting with a strategic shift away from outright containment, which is failing, towards controlled opening, where Israel sets the rules for Gaza’s re-entry to the world.
The World Bank said Gaza’s economy cannot fully recover until access to traditional markets in Israel and the West Bank is restored. Tel Aviv seems to be counting on Israeli-regulated access to these markets as a new mechanism to control Gaza’s Palestinians.
A similar mechanism of Israeli economic and political control over Palestinians in the West Bank was enshrined in the 1993 Oslo Accord.
In, recent weeks, there have been mass protests and union strikes in the West Bank against the accord’s economic and political enslavement of Palestinians.
In response, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas last said it was time to consider cancelling the Oslo Accord, a remarkable turnaround by a longtime supporter of Palestine’s treaty with Israel.
As the West Bank rises up against the Oslo Accord, Israel is flagging the defeat of its Gaza siege strategy and looking to shift towards an Oslo-style enslavement of the Mediterranean strip.
However, once Egypt authorises a free trade zone with Gaza, the Palestinian strip will likely gain the economic clout to resist Israel’s neocolonial manoeuvres.
Israel is trying to push against the irresistible flow of history. That being so, further defeats for it seem certain.
[Abridged from KiaoraGaza.]