The defense establishment is concerned that the government will cave in to growing international pressure to permit Palestinians to export goods from the Gaza Strip.
Defense officials said on Tuesday that the international community, led by Quartet envoy Tony Blair, was formulating a plan to get Israel to continue to loosen the blockade on the Gaza Strip and, after it lifted restrictions on food imports last week, to now allow Gazans to export goods. Potential markets are Israel, the West Bank and Europe.
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Also on Tuesday, the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) informed the Palestinians that starting on Wednesday, 150 trucks – double what was allowed into Gaza before the easing of the blockade – would pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing. Within a few weeks, COGAT plans to increase the number of trucks to 250.
In addition, The Jerusalem Post has learned that COGAT is compiling a new list of supplies and goods that will be banned from import to the Gaza Strip. One of those goods will be wood. As a result, starting on Wednesday, COGAT will allow the Palestinians to bring in furniture such as couches, chairs, tables and doors, but not wood that could be used to build bunkers and tunnels.
Since Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas took over the Strip in 2007, it has only occasionally permitted the export of produce. Last year, Blair’s office helped coordinate among Gaza, Israel and the Netherlands, which funded the export of strawberries and flowers to Dutch markets.
"Export bans last means of influencing Hamas"
Defense officials said on Tuesday that the economy in Gaza was highly dependent on Israel and that while the government surrendered last week to international pressure and lifted restrictions on imports, it was important to ban exports as a last means of influencing Hamas.
Last week, the cabinet approved an easing of the land blockade on Gaza. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said during the cabinet meeting last Sunday that while there would not be a “civilian closure,” there would be a “security closure.” The defense establishment fears that international organizations will read into what Netanyahu said and argue that exporting agricultural produce should not fall under the security closure.
“This is the next natural step after the government lifted the blockade over Gaza,” another official said. “If this happens, we will lose all of our leverage over Hamas.”
Israel is hoping that Hamas will moderate its views and resolve its dispute with Fatah in the ongoing reconciliation talks that are being mediated by Egypt.
On Tuesday, Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s
Diplomatic-Security Bureau, met with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar
Suleiman for talks on the situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as the
ramifications of Israel’s decision last week to ease the blockade
“The lifting of the blockade effectively removed any leverage that
Israel had over Hamas,” one official explained. “The only leverage left
now is the ban on exports.”
According to statistics released recently by B’Tselem – The Israeli
Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, before
2007, 70 trucks laden with goods such as furniture, clothing and produce
left Gaza daily for Israel.
International officials said on Tuesday that the Quartet was working on a
plan to increase exports from Gaza to other markets, preferably in the
West Bank or Israel. The officials said that these markets were
preferred over Europe since the profit margin on strawberries was
greater in Israel and the West Bank.