Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Rethinking the Gaza Blockade

David Makovsky
June 1, 2010

The New York Times convened an online panel of five Middle East experts to discuss the balance between maintaining security for Israel and addressing the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza. The following is a contribution by Washington Institute Ziegler distinguished fellow David Makovsky, director of the Institute's Project on the Middle East Peace Process. Read the entire discussion on the Times's website.

Recalibrate the Blockade
The flotilla tragedy has brought fresh interest about whether the blockade of Gaza should be maintained.

Of course, the blockade can be lifted immediately if Hamas would say that it accepts what the international community -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- has demanded of it since 2006: Israel's existence, a denial of violence and adherence to past agreements. These criteria have been reaffirmed repeatedly by President Obama over the last year. Indeed, it would be useful if flotilla activists would use the same energy to press Hamas to accede to peace as it has pressed Israel. It is odd to see self-proclaimed peace activists on the same side as an organization whose signature policy for more than 20 years is exhorting teenagers to engage in homicidal suicide bombing and then adorning the public space with "martyr" portraits.

The origin of the blockade is not punitive, but defensive. It can be found in Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and the 3,300-plus rockets that fell on Israel between then and the Gaza War in December 2008 and 2009. An unconditional lifting of the blockade now would be a windfall for an unreconstructed Hamas, which would turn a trickle of smuggled rockets from Iran into a flood.

The better question is whether it is possible to recalibrate the blockade in a way that would bar the importation of rockets and protect Israeli security, while easing conditions on the ground. This leads to the issue of dual-use items. The past has demonstrated that Hamas has no scruples about diverting select construction materials as well as other aid meant for the public good in Gaza and utilizing it to build weapons.

To ease tensions with the international community without sacrificing Israeli security, there might be an advantage for Israel to agree to a streamlined dual-use list. Instead of saying all is forbidden unless it is explicitly approved, it might be easier to say all is permitted but that which is prohibited explicitly by the dual-use list. As such, there would instantly be a rationale for everything that is disallowed.

Yet, the first approach of Hamas agreeing to live peacefully with its Israeli neighbor would be preferable and profoundly transformative.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of The Washington Institute's Project on the Middle East Peace Process.

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