Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt want Israel's Gaza blockade to stay
Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt want Israel's Gaza blockade to stay
Monday, June 14,2010 19:08
By Abraham Rabinovich

THE Palestinian Authority and Egypt oppose lifting Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip but both call for easing the overland flow of goods to Gaza's 1.5 million residents.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas made his position known to US President Barack Obama at a meeting in the White House last Wednesday. According to European diplomatic sources quoted in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Mr Abbas said the blockade should remain in place to avoid bolstering Hamas, which has ruled the coastal strip since seizing it from the PA three years ago. Hamas at the weekend rejected an offer by Mr Abbas to send a PA delegation to Gaza to discuss ways of ending their power struggle and recreating a single Palestinian political entity. Mr Abbas stressed the need for easing the restrictions of goods into Gaza in ways that would not boost Hamas's prestige.

Israel in recent days has relaxed its embargo on consumer goods but refuses to bow to Hamas's demand for free flow of cement, iron, aluminium and other building materials.

Hamas says the material is needed for restoring 60,000 housing units damaged or destroyed in last year's Israeli incursion. Israel says the cement could easily be diverted for construction of tunnels and bunkers and the metals for use in building rockets.

Egypt has told the US and European countries that the maritime blockade should not be lifted because it would be too difficult to inspect ships entering Gaza port to ensure they do not carry weaponry. Egypt regards Hamas as a dangerous neighbour and fears the Islamic group's contacts with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood inside Egypt. It has attempted without success over the years to persuade Hamas to merge with the moderate Palestinian Authority.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa is scheduled to make his first visit to Gaza this week to resolve Hamas-PA differences. However, the support won by Hamas in the wake of Israel's takeover of a Gaza-bound convoy bearing humanitarian supplies has augmented Hamas's self-confidence.

Meanwhile, despite Israel's declared readiness to hold a formal probe into the events surrounding the takeover of the convoy, in which nine people were killed, it has been unable to come up with a proposal regarding the mandate and composition of a committee of inquiry that satisfies the US and European countries.

Washington has agreed to Israel's insistence that the committee be headed by an Israeli, despite a call by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a committee headed by a neutral party, but Washington has rejected Israel's proposed committee make-up and insisted its head should be a retired Supreme Court judge to give it more substance.

Israel has agreed that two foreign jurists, one American and one European, participate as observers but Washington is reportedly demanding at least two European observers.

It was unclear whether Washington agreed with Israel's demand that the committee also probe the role of the Turkish authorities in the presence of a group of militants.