Israel reconsidering Gaza blockade, says minister

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TEL AVIV - Israel is reconsidering its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, an Israeli cabinet minister confirmed Tuesday.

The previous government had started the policy of banning not only dangerous materials from Gaza for security reasons, said Isaac Herzog, who holds the welfare and social services portfolio.

It adopted an all-encompassing embargo aimed at “economic collapse”, in a bid to bring Hamas to its knees, and also to pressurise it to free the Israeli soldier held captive by the radical Islamist movement for the past four years.

That, “to my regret”, had not happened, said Herzog, of the left-to-centre Labour Party. The blockade has been in place for three years.

Israel was therefore currently weighing a new formula, albeit without compromising its security.

“It’s about time we end the blockade in its current form,” the minister told Israel Radio.

The current policy was not “bringing the aimed for results”.

That, he argued, was “not easy”, but “important” to admit. “It hasn’t brought our dear Gilad Shalit home. And therefore there is the need for a new paradigm,” he said and added, “We’ve clarified to the European Union (EU), including to Tony Blair, who spoke with the Israeli leadership, that Israel plans to change the form of the blockade in the sense that it will allow an easier flow of goods into Gaza.”

As a result, the European Union statement issued in Luxembourg Monday was modified, he said.

Israel was currently working out the “technical details in a professional manner to achieve a more up-to-date formula” against the smuggling of weapons to Gaza.

The Labour Party is the most moderate coalition partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s otherwise right-wing and ultra-right coalition. Its ministers have at times been the mouthpiece for any concessions decided on by the Netanyahu government.

It was also a Labour Party minister who announced a behind-the-scenes “understanding” with the US on Israeli construction in Jerusalem, which had enabled the long-delayed start of indirect peace negotiations with a reluctant Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel has been under increasing international pressure to reverse its embargo policy since late May, when its navy raided a flotilla bringing in aid to Gaza, killing eight Turkish activists and one American of Turkish descent.

Middle East envoy Blair had said in Luxembourg Monday that Netanyahu told him he was ready to let civilian goods into Gaza, while arms and combat material would continue to be blockaded through a so-called “negative list”.

That would inverse the current policy of blocking all goods except essential basic items specifically mentioned on a “positive list”.

Although enacting the policy shift will “take some time”, positive steps could begin to be taken “within the next days”, Blair said.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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