Critics of Israel’s Gaza blockade are too quick to ignore the harsh realities leaders in Jerusalem face in dealing with a Hamas government that has turned Gaza into a launching pad for new terrorist attacks — and which continues to hold kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
That said, the sweeping nature of a blockade that sometimes seemed shaped by caprice, not strategic necessity — how many times since the Gaza flotilla incident have we heard about coriander? — gave Israel’s enemies around the world a potent piece of ammunition to wield in their effort to portray the blockade as collective punishment, not strategic necessity.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived for his critical summit with President Obama on Tuesday armed with — among other things — a major and welcome shift in blockade procedures.
Instead of allowing into Gaza only a narrowly defined list of items, Israel will now open up the borders to most consumer goods, restricting only a specific list of items deemed dangerous.
Obviously, the focus will remain on arms, ammunition and the raw materials that can be used to build weapons meant to be used against Israel. There will also be continuing restrictions on building materials, since Israel fears commodities like cement will be used to build and harden bunkers meant to protect Hamas weapons and terrorists.
Limiting the import of military goods — and things that can be used to expand the terrorist infrastructure — remain matters of vital national interest to a Jewish state that has been the target of Palestinian rockets and Hamas suicide bombers for years.
Resuming the flow of consumer goods to an impoverished Gaza deflates the “collective punishment” charge so prevalent in the world and ultimately may hurt Hamas, which has adroitly used the strict blockade to keep Gazans focused on Israel, not on the repressive, economically disastrous rule of their own government.
We’re not naive enough believe that Netanyahu’s shift on the blockade will do much for Israel’s image in a world where anti-Israel bias, not genuine concern for the fate of two peoples locked in seemingly eternal battle, rules.
Hopefully the shift will help restore close U.S.-Israel relations and help Israel in the difficult quest for an effective strategy for dealing with a Gaza leadership that remains committed to Israel’s destruction — and opposed to the peace efforts Washington hopes will bring an end to the world’s most difficult conflict.