US welcomes new Gaza items list

At White House, PM to present Obama with details of new policy.

311_Air Bibi (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)
311_Air Bibi
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left for the US late Monday night for a meeting the next day with President Barack Obama, perhaps not carrying any dramatic new diplomatic initiative, but at least bringing a message of significant changes in what goods Israel will allow into the Gaza Strip.
Hours before Netanyahu was to board his plane for Washington, Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Gal and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot unveiled the principles behind a detailed list of items Israel will not allow into the Gaza Strip. Everything not on that list will be let in.
RELATED:Frank Luntz: PM must show positive intentAnalysis: Anything would be better than last timePM's US trip to strengthen Israel-US relationshipBarak: We must give US clear initiativeOpinion: All eyes on BibiThe so-called negative list, defining what is prohibited rather than what is permitted in order to widen the scope of the goods allowed in, is something the US and the international community have been pressing Israel to produce for some time.
Following the May 31 IDF raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine men, Obama called the blockade “unsustainable.”
On June 20, the security cabinet decided to significantly ease the blockade of civilian goods and decided that Israel would continue to control the entry of arms, munitions and dual-use goods. Everything else would be allowed in.
Gal said the new guidelines on Gaza would certainly come up in Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama on Tuesday, as would a number of other issues, including Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and how to move the talks with the Palestinians from indirect to direct talks.
The US welcomed Israel’s announcement Monday as an “important step.”
"We believe the list of restricted goods for Gaza announced today will make a significant improvement in the lives of people in Gaza, while keeping weapons out of the hands of Hamas,” said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman.
“This is an important step in implementing the new policy announced by Israel two weeks ago.” He said Obama “looks forward to discussing” the matter during his Oval Office talks with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is expected to meet Obama at 11 a.m. in the White House, just a few hours after landing in Washington. Unlike the previous two Netanyahu-Obama meetings at the White House, this one will be followed by a photo-opportunity and press conference. The leaders will then hold a working lunch.
This will be Netanyahu and Obama’s fifth meeting since they both took office last year.
A few hours before leaving, Netanyahu met with Likud cabinet ministers and said the goal of the visit was to move from indirect to direct talks with the Palestinians. He also met with President Shimon Peres.
Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet with US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday afternoon.
Perhaps in an indication that the Obama administration is keen on adding warmth to this visit, following the chilly reception Netanyahu received during his White House visit in March, Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, has been invited for a meeting with Michelle Obama.
On Wednesday, the prime minister will travel to New York for a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and will give several media interviews. On Thursday, he will give a speech to the Council for Foreign Relations, before flying back home.
On one of his two days in New York he is also expected to open the trading day at the New York Stock Exchange.
Netanyahu is scheduled to return home on Friday. Next Tuesday, he is to fly to Egypt for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak to update him on his trip to Washington and other developments.
Last week, Netanyahu’s top advisers Yitzhak Molcho and National Security Council head Uzi Arad were in Egypt arranging that visit. The easing of the blockade on Gaza is expected to be discussed in those talks as well.
Certain items still not allowed into Gaza
Among the items whose entrance into Gaza will still be restricted are materials and equipment liable to be used for terrorist attacks and technology that could be used by terrorists, such as a range of chemicals used in the production of explosives (including certain fertilizers); ball bearings; lathes and their parts; composite materials; hunting knives and machetes; optical equipment, such as lasers and night vision goggles; certain navigation aides; diving equipment; parachutes, gliders and other non-motorized airborne vehicles; flares and fireworks; avionics and flight control equipment; missile-related computer technologies; rock drills; and equipment drawing water from excavated sites.
In addition, dual-use goods and items listed in the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies – a multilateral export control regime that involves more than 40 countries that restricts the export of armaments and other products to particular regions or countries – are on the list.
Gal told journalists on Monday that another principle being implemented is to allow construction materials into Gaza, but only for Palestinian Authority-authorized projects under international supervision.
Israel is concerned that a free inflow of items such as cement, lime, gravel, concrete, steel, iron, concrete blocs and vehicles, excluding private cars, would likely to be used by Hamas for military purposes, such as building bunkers, fortifying positions and digging tunnels.
As a result, these products – and other construction materials on the list – will be allowed in only for educational, housing and infrastructure projects being undertaken by the UN or other recognized international bodies. Dangot said that in the coming months materials will be allowed in for around 45 projects.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair, who has been pushing for a negative list for months, issued a statement welcoming publication of the list.
“This list is a significant milestone,” he said. “As I have always said, implementation will be the test.
“These changes are significant and, once implemented, should have a dramatic influence on the daily lives of the people of Gaza and on the private sector,” Blair said, calling for the capacity of the Kerem Shalom crossing to increase as well.
“Thousands of items that have not been available through legitimate channels for the last three years should now enter as a matter of course. This will produce a counterweight to the tunnel economy, which has been under Hamas control,” he said.
“It is also important that we ensure more people can enter and leave Gaza freely and that the legitimate business community can benefit from exporting its products from Gaza.”
UN Mideast envoy Robert Serry also welcomed the measures, saying they were “important steps in the right direction.”
But Gisha – The Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, said that despite the changes, Israel continues to restrict the movement of persons and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, not for security reasons but rather as part of a policy aimed at dismantling the economy in Gaza and separating Gaza from the West Bank.
“The restrictions that Israel applies on construction materials into Gaza prevent the private sector from rebuilding and create tremendous burdens on international humanitarian projects,” Gisha said.
It added, “There can be no economic recovery unless Israel ends its ban on manufacturers in Gaza exporting finished products. There can be no healthy, intact Palestinian society and no two-state solution unless Israel allows Palestinians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, which it has recognized as a single territorial unit under international agreements.”

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.