Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up
Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:
The contours of the response to the Gaza flotilla fiasco are now coming into sharper public view: the Israeli government will significantly ease the blockade of Gaza in exchange for American support for a whitewash of the investigation of the flotilla incident. As I’ve said many times on Twitter, this is a good deal. No investigation was ever going to produce anything of any particular value, but easing the blockade of Gaza could have significant positive effects for the people of Gaza, the prospects of Palestinian reconciliation, the peace process, and American credibility in the region. None of those will happen on their own, of course. And nobody is likely to be fully satisfied with the new measures. I’ve been quite critical of how the Obama team has handled the Israeli-Palestinian track, and particularly the Gaza situation — and if they had moved strongly to resolve the Gaza blockade a year ago, the issue wouldn’t have been there now to exploit. But now, I think they deserve some real credit for nudging Israel towards finally making a move which could over time open up some real new possibilities for progress.
I know a lot of people won’t agree with me on this, but trading off the investigation for the blockade was the right move. It is difficult to imagine what value even a real, independent international investigation of the flotilla incident would possibly have. The incident itself was only a minor one in the longer, deeper story of the Gaza blockade — a fiasco waiting to happen, not a bolt from the blue. An investigation narrowly focused on the flotilla and what happened during the Israeli boarding would be of only marginal value, while the process itself would be hopelessly politicized. The Israeli self-study seems designed to be self-discredting. By appointing David Trimble, founder of a “Friends of Israel” group, as one of the two international observers, they have more or less guaranteed that the results will be pleasing to their sympathizers and totally discredited in the eyes of everyone else. So be it.
But it is far from clear what this “liberalisation” will entail, or how fast it will happen. The statement also says that Israel would continue to implement the “existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war materials” and that it will decide in the coming days how it will implement this decision. Some items banned from Gaza, mainly construction materials, are forbidden on the basis that they are “dual-use”—they might be used to build houses but they might also be for building bombs, says Israel.
The ultimate victory for the Mavi Marmara: Israel has decided to ease the blockade of Gaza, shifting its policy closer toward what supporters of the blockade said it was always supposed to accomplish, preventing Hamas from stockpiling weapons. We’ll have to wait to see how much so-called ‘dual use’ material — stuff that could have both civilian or military application — Israel will actually continue to exclude before we can really determine whether the easement even remotely approaches the “fundamental change” that Robert Gibbs said in a statement Gaza needs. But any relaxation of collective punishment is a positive sign. And whatever you think of the Mavi Marmara, it’s impossible to deny that the flotilla’s mission of concentrating international attention on the immiseration of Gaza succeeded.
If it was only interdiction of military supplies to Hamas, they would allow building materials and other civilian goods through to Gaza. But an ancillary goal of the blockade is to make life so difficult for Gazans that they overthrow or vote out Hamas. It’s not working at this point so a relaxation of some of the blockade’s strictures might generate a little international goodwill while still maintaining the main reason for having the blockade in the first place.
Those predisposed to see Israel as the villain won’t be swayed. But on another level, this move makes sense if you consider that these small concessions to American and European sensibilities makes it easier for them to support Israel at the UN and elsewhere.
Gregg Carlstrom at The Majlis:
Israel’s decision to slightly ease the Gaza blockade drew a very caveated reaction from around the world. Britain’s foreign office said “further work is needed”; Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, urged Israel to allow “many, many more goods… in to Gaza.”
The NGO Save the Children e-mailed reporters to praise the decision, but said “simply easing the blockade by allowing more goods in is not enough.” Oxfam called it a “baby step.”
Reaction from Washington was slightly more positive, but still quietly urged Israel to loosen the blockade further. The subject came up very briefly during yesterday’s White House briefing, where press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president “welcomed” the move.
Look, I think that we welcome the principles that were announced by the Israeli government today. They’re a step in the right direction. We will continue to work in the coming days with our Israel friends to continue to improve a humanitarian situation in Gaza that the President has said is unsustainable.
At the State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner said the Israeli decision was consistent with US requests for a looser blockade.
Well, we welcome the general principles announced earlier today by the Israeli Government. They reflect the type of changes we’ve been significant with our Israeli friends. And Senator Mitchell, who was in the region, will continue working on them in the coming days.
As the President has said, the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. And as these principles get further developed and implemented, we’re hopeful that the situation in Gaza will improve. Meanwhile, we just would also reiterate our call for the unconditional release of Corporal Shalit.
The language about “further developed and implemented” is the State Department’s way of very quietly urging Israel to loosen the blockade further. Toner later said the US wants a “further expansion of the scope” of goods allowed into Gaza.