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A siege of inertia: Israel's non-policy on Gaza

One government inherits the siege from another, the prime minister admits it’s more harmful than helpful, the cabinet never formulates or even discusses a policy, and one minister goes as far as admitting that the only driving force behind Israel’s Gaza policy is inertia.

By Itamar Sha’altiel

Israeli soldiers inspect their tanks on the Gaza border during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers inspect their tanks on the Gaza border during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. (Photo by Activestills.org)

There is something tempting about trying to connect all the dots, which show that every decision made by successive Israeli governments have just been part of one giant, logical process. It doesn’t matter whether the final outcome is cold and cruel — at least we can find solace knowing that all the pain and injustice is part of a rational calculus. A few days ago it was Haggai Matar who tried to connect the dots. His conclusion: Operation Protective Edge was intended to cause unbelievable destruction in Gaza, which will cause the Palestinians to deal with reconstruction for years, thus prolonging the occupation.

I think Matar is wrong, and that the truth is worse and more complex than he wants to believe. If we connect all the dots of Israeli policy, we do not get a secret plan, but rather a picture of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon attempting to think; there is no rational calculus behind all the injustice and pain, only coincidence and covering one’s ass.

A few days ago, at a conference put on by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Likud’s Dan Meridor told an anecdote from the previous government (Hebrew). Meridor, who was then the deputy prime minister, asked at a 2010 cabinet meeting why there was a blockade on Gaza. “Inertia,” answered Ehud Barak, who was then the defense minister, and everyone continued about their business. This took place during a meeting in which members of the government discussed how to prepare for the flotilla that was approaching the shores of Gaza. Meridor did not describe what happened after Barak answered him, but seeing as the blockade did not end, it seems like “inertia” was a a satisfactory answer.

The blockade was not lifted even after the flotilla, despite the fact that it was inherited by the Olmert government and despite Netanyahu admitting that the “civilian blockade harmed the security blockade.” (Hebrew) Inertia. We also know that there was hasn’t been a discussion on the policy vis-a-vis Gaza for years. (Hebrew) During his tenure as head of the National Security Council (part of the Prime Minister’s Office), Uzi Arad admitted that there was no discussion about Gaza among members of the government. The same thing was stated by a senior investigator back when the National Security Council was run by Yaakov Amidror.

The truth is that it is easier to think of Protective Edge as a mistake, as an escalation that got out of control, rather than to assume that it is part of a larger plan. The operation lit a small fire under the West Bank and East Jerusalem, hurt the international legitimacy of additional Israeli military operations, and coerced the government into giving up on the opportunity to manage the conflict in Gaza separately from the West Bank.

Rounds of fighting are an integral part of managing the conflict. They are certain and likely. When Amidror speaks of the Gaza Strip, he sees only two options: occupation or military escalation every few years. Members of the defense establishment say that they hope to prevent the next round of fighting, but also speak of enlarging “the period between rounds of escalation and fighting.”

Actually, in terms of managing the conflict, Protective Edge looks like a disaster. It forced the government to agree to significant changes in order to remain in place. The occupation is still here, but the ground has slightly shifted. For the first time in a while, there is a chance of seeing a significant change in the government’s policy regarding Gaza — a change that has a huge effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. We now speak of allowing building materials into the Strip; about marketing goods from Gaza in the West Bank, for the first time since 2007; about allowing Gazan students to study in the West Bank, since 2000; and it seems that residents of Gaza will have an easier time changing their residency and moving to the West Bank, even in cases that are not considered “exceptional humanitarian cases.” And that’s a lot.

Perhaps we are seeing a drastic change in policy, and in the understanding that restricting civilians’ movement is not a bargaining chip. But perhaps instead of a change in policy we will only get another variation on the same theme. That is what happened after the 2010 Gaza flotilla, in which Israel responded to international pressure to allow goods into the Strip, while maintaining all other aspects of the blockade.

It is too early to predict whether the government is planning to replace the blockade with some sort of blockade-lite, and tracking this issue is going to be difficult, boring and full of details. The media and politicians have a tendency to get bored of these discussions. And if that is the case, the next escalation is not far away. Amidror is already drawing up plans.

Itamar Sha’altiel is the new media director at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. This article represents his own views. This article was first published on +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
Seven years later, Israel decides Gaza blockade is ineffective
Gaza takeaways: War is the new system of governance 
Space for perpetuating the conflict: Tunnels, deterrence and profits

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    COMMENTS

    1. Joel

      Does anybody give a crap?
      ISIS. Global warming.Earning a living.

      The I/P land conflict has gone on for 80 years.
      No sensible person cares.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Not exactly. Anti-Semites (Judeophobes, Jew-haters) care quite a lot about the conflict, which is the very reason why it won’t be over in foreseeable future – well-being of too many depends on it. Just imagine all the scumbags from UNRWA who could lose their jobs should there be peace.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Yeah, those damn Jew Haters. That’s the only reason why we haven’t been able to perpetrate a 17th Century colonialist land grab in the 21st Century. Why if it weren’t for those Jew Haters we Jews could have our 17th Century cake and eat it too!! Life is so unfair!!! Oh ye gods of history turn back the clock! We want to be 21st Century post-Enlightenment Startup Nation Jews but only not just yet, permit us this teeny tiny good ol’ 17th Century land grab will ya??!! Just this one time! Where’s a time machine when you need it?! We wanna go back and forth! It’s SO convenient!

          Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            “That’s the only reason why we haven’t been able to perpetrate a 17th Century colonialist land grab in the 21st Century.”

            This from someone who overlooks (at best) the 7th-century colonialist land grabs of the Muslims in the 21st century is busting a couple of irony meters…

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Oh I get it. YESHA = ISIS! Nice ethos! Only the ISIS guys don’t PRETEND to be modern and democratic and humane. So your hypocrisy meter busted a long time ago.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Kev

      I suspect that many people care. “Earning a living”… yes, Gazans should be allowed to earn a living. Which means that they should be allowed to export the goods that they produce. There has never been a legitimate security reason to prevent them from doing so, but for years Israel has prevented exports in order to collectively punish the Palestinians in Gaza.

      Any sensible and decent person should care about justice and fundamental human rights. Apparently, however, you do not.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joel

        Gazans could have beat their weapons into plowshares the day after Israel unilaterally quit Gaza. Instead, they began an unending barrage of rockets aimed at Israel and chose to be governed by religious fantatics who want to destroy, at the very least, the State of Israel and Freemasonry.

        Kev. You care so much? Than go to Gaza and roll up your sleeves.

        Reply to Comment
      • CigarButNoNice

        “yes, Gazans should be allowed to earn a living.”

        Trouble is, they want to earn a dying. The dying of the Jews, by their own explosive dying.

        “Which means that they should be allowed to export the goods that they produce.”

        They produce only bads—Islamic terrorism. And they export them willy-nilly, as a brief walk in the streets of Londonistan or Malmo can show.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          As previously posted by Andrew R:
          Andrew R
          Saturday
          August 30, 2014
          Israel left Gaza in 2005 and left them with greenhouse business doing a hundred million dollars of business a year.

          But we know what actually destroyed Gaza’s agriculture business: the blockade on exports.

          The Israeli settlers dismantled about half their greenhouses as of 15 July 2005, a full month before the disengagement.

          nytimes.com/2005/07/15/international/middleeast/15mideast.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

          “Less than three months after the Israelis departed, Palestinians have repaired scores of greenhouses left by the settlers and planted a fall crop, and they are preparing to harvest an estimated $20 million worth of strawberries, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers and herbs and spices. The produce is intended mostly for export to Europe, but some will also be headed to Israel, Arab countries and the United States.”

          nytimes.com/2005/11/28/international/middleeast/28gaza.html?_r=0

          In Jan and Feb 06 the greenhouse business lost over a million dollars due to closures at Karni crossing.
          jpost.com/Middle-East/Gaza-Karni-closures-a-catastrophe

          By April, the Palestinian company developing the greenhouses was completely out of funds.

          http://mondoweiss.net/2014/08/propaganda-dehumanize-palestinians.html

          (Also, spare me the whining about MW; it’s mostly summarizing what’s already reported by the NYT, JPost and BBC)

          Of course, at this time Hamas had won the PA legislative elections, indicating the closures were nothing more than a spiteful, punitive measure. Ha’aretz reported that the IDF head of Southern Command recommended reopening the crossing while the Defense Minister ordered it remain closed.
          haaretz.com/print-edition/news/in-gaza-there-s-no-milk-no-sugar-and-tomatoes-are-rotting-on-the-vines-1.182235

          Reply to Comment
    3. Average American

      Joel – “Governed by religious fanatics”? Israel isn’t governed by religious fanatics?? Israel is defined by religious fanaticism. Everything they are and do is based on religion: The Jewish State. State Rabbis. Halaca law for civil matters. Flag with religious emblem. Founded by religious fanatic Zionists.

      Reply to Comment