Lift the siege of Gaza



Tishrei 24, 5766

Supporters of disengagement in Israel and around the world feel cheated. After the determined and sensitive withdrawal from the Gush Katif settlements, the government of Israel is avoiding the necessary follow-up steps, and is imposing a choking air, sea and land blockade against the Gaza Strip's residents.

This complaint has been voiced not only by the Palestinians, but also by James Wolfensohn, the Quartet's envoy for disengagement, in a letter last week to the Quartet's foreign ministers and the United Nations secretary-general.

Wolfensohn warned that the government of Israel was preventing the economic recovery of Gaza's population by referring the most urgent matters to committees that work unreasonably slowly. Whether this is being done maliciously, because of turf wars, or whether it is merely ordinary foot-dragging, the result is the same. The agreements involving the opening of the Gaza Strip crossings to people and goods, which are the cornerstone of Gaza's economy, have been delayed for too long. The proposal by the World Bank to implement a temporary system of convoys to ferry merchandise has not been implemented, and even discussion of it has been repeatedly put off. Israel has not responded to a proposal by the European Union to temporarily monitor the Rafah crossing; the Erez roadblock is almost hermetically sealed; the passage of goods through Karni is especially slow; and there are only two or three buses between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank once every few days. This situation has nothing to do with security, the meticulous protection of which is obvious.

Wolfensohn's letter took a dramatic tone, intended to wake the decision-makers from their apathy, warning that "if we miss this opportunity for change, we will regret it for the next decade."

The Prime Minister's Office responded that the letter "would be studied after Sukkot," while the Defense Ministry said there was "no need to get excited."

These arrogant reponses do not evince an overabundance of diplomatic wisdom. When it comes to the relationship of Israel with the Palestinians, Israel's primary interest is a significant improvement in the standard of living of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. For disengagement to be considered a success, and not an act divorced from any context of state craft, Israel has to avoid placing obstacles in the way of the donor countries, and in the way of anyone trying to assist the Palestinians. If Wolfensohn's letter prompted Shaul Mofaz and Shimon Peres to divide up their responsibilities in this matter, it will have served a purpose.

The Sharon government might mistakenly think that fences, targeted killings and shootings are a recipe for calm. It might also be tempted to think that cutting off Gaza from the West Bank is possible. However, the Qassams fired at Sderot in response to the killing of the Islamic Jihad activist in Tul Karm shows that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are one entity. If normalcy is desired with this entity, the basic conditions must be created for economic recovery that will strengthen the moderates and make terror less popular. The task of disengagement from Gaza has not been completed, let alone been successful. Only half the work has been done so far. Lifting the economic embargo from Gaza is a necessary precondition to this success.