Commentary

Gaza Blockade Turns 5

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Last week, with the attention of the world turned toward the presidential elections in Egypt, the Palestinians in Gaza marked their fifth year under a total Israeli-imposed blockade. Notwithstanding the recurring cycle of violence, there was a sense among the observers and the commentators in the region that what was going on across the border in Egypt was not inconsequential for Gaza and the fate of the Palestinians living in the Strip.

In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Khaled Diab has no doubts about where the costs of the blockade lie, and what should be done about it: “Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of Israel’s imposition of a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. Although the land, sea and air blockade has not made Israelis any safer or enhanced Israel’s security, it has had a clear humanitarian and economic impact on Gazans....Tightening the screws on Gaza led from a situation in which Hamas won 44.45% of the votes and had to share power with Fatah to one in which it became the only show in town in Gaza....Israelis pride themselves on their sense of morality, which they believe the world unfairly ignores. Well, it is time for them to display this sense of Jewish integrity and demand en masse that their government lift the blockade. It’s the only principled thing to do — and it is in Israel’s own self-interest, to boot.”

Commenting on the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza, Haaretz’s Gideon Levy wryly notes: “It it wasn't so fatal and bloody, it could have been amusing. There is something appallingly childish in the recurring cycle of blood and destruction. They start and we react, they react and we react more harshly. The attacks on Israel are senseless and the Israeli revenge is no less senseless....In another day or two, if no disaster occurs, this futile quarrel, too, will end. An unofficial cease-fire will be reached — in unofficial talks, of course — until the next incident. And come it will, nothing is more certain.”

The Palestinian news-site Amin has an article by Ramzy Baroud, who shoots down any attempts to downplay the real nature of the situation in Gaza: “Despite all evidence that the Israeli siege on Gaza is part of a well-orchestrated political and military campaign, many insist on seeing it as an issue concerning household supplies, gasoline and foodstuff....but that crisis can never be truly appreciated without a thorough understanding of the political underpinnings of Israel’s ultimate objectives in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. The Gaza siege is an Israeli political decision that must be addressed and resisted as such. It should never be allowed to exist as yet another status quo, generating a few words of censure but no meaningful action.”

For Miftah’s Kevin William, however, the story is more than just about Gaza: “For the Israelis living in the West Bank, they spend their time living in their gated, government subsidized settlement neighborhoods located in the Palestinian urban and rural landscape. With their gatekeepers, red-roofed cookie-cutter houses, green gardens, and swimming pools, they react with hostility to anyone not Jewish who strays near their encampments....On the other hand, the fear of the Palestinians comes from a different angle....Instead of a fear of retribution, it is much simpler than that; it is a fear of not making ends meet.”

Still, there are signs that the regional transformations over the last year have also brought about new dynamics for the main actors involved in the Gaze seige. Arshad Mohammed cautions that the “U.S. may have less Mideast clout…. Events in Egypt, Bahrain and Syria illustrate the limits of U.S. influence in the Middle East following the Arab Spring and a U.S. reluctance, at times, to exercise such clout as it has....After decades in which Washington has been the region's dominant outside player, deploying its military to guarantee the flow of oil and its diplomatic muscle to advance peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the pro-democracy demonstrations of the Arab Spring appear to have changed the equation.”

In particular, it has not been lost on the Israelis that the tectonic shifts in the political landscape of Egypt mean that it is not business as usual in Gaza. In an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, Alex Fishman expresses concern for what those shifts might mean for Israel: “This is no longer the same Egypt. It is no longer the same border, the peace treaty is dying, and we better start to change our way of thinking....It may not happen immediately, but we better give up the euphemisms now and stop declaring that we faced attacks from the Sinai during Mubarak’s era as well. Better get accustomed to the fact that Israel’s southern border, all of it, is a hostile border; a border of confrontation. An Egyptian regime under Islamic leadership will not be able to accept Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. The day when Morsi is in power and the Air Force strikes the Strip, possibly killing innocents, will also be the day marking the end of formal relations between Israel and Egypt.”

Others, like the Israeli business daily Globes’ Jacky Hougy, regret the inability of both countries to build a more enduring relationship over the last 30 years: “Mubarak was no friend of Israel. He did offer real peace between the two countries, but detracted from it. During his time as president, relations between Jerusalem and Cairo were mainly a military alliance. The apparent friend, whose bitter fate is being mourned by many, consistently castrated any chance of bequeathing solid foundations of brotherhood to future generations....It is doubtful whether Mubarak sought this stability out of an honest concern about the future of the Middle East, rather than out of a desire for continuing the quiet he received from his predecessor in order to bequeath it to his son and heir as president. ”


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