Having welcomed Israel's pledge to immediately ease the blockade of goods into Hamas-ruled Gaza, the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers on Monday warned that the current situation in Gaza is "unsustainable and unacceptable and not in the interests of anyone concerned." It is a fine sentiment, but there remains an immutable obstacle to any lasting relief to the Gaza predicament. It is not Israel. It is Hamas.
Yes, Israel should allow the population of Gaza some degree of normality. One list of newly permitted goods included such things as children's toys, towels, stationery, mattresses and a full range of food items. But now the Israeli security cabinet has wisely changed its approach, by banning specific goods, rather than continuing to permit only a list of particular goods, the rationale for which is hard to see. Before long, all consumer goods should be able to enter Gaza. The blockade should not be conducted as if it were siege warfare, in which a population is to be pressed to surrender. After all, the Israelis, both inside and outside government, do not want to regain control of Gaza.
But while Israel has promised "liberalization," including expanding the importation of building materials for internationally supervised civilian projects, it is justified in maintaining the security blockade, on the highly legitimate ground of excluding matériel for warfare, including dual-use construction supplies that could strengthen Hamas.
Little wonder the terrorist group has complained about the manner in which the blockade is being eased, saying that Israel is "deceiving the world." "We don't want snacks and chips. We need building materials," said Hamas Minister of Economy Ziad al-Zaza.
But Israel cannot afford to relax its guard against a group that is dedicated to the purpose of wiping it off the map. It cannot deal with the Hamas government, negotiating sensible accommodations with give-and-take. Hamas has established a terrorist statelet, which harbours a range of extreme Islamist factions, and is a client of theocratic Iran. Moreover, many attempts at a deal for the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have proved fruitless.
The efforts by the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia to push for a "fundamental change in policy" toward Gaza will be hampered, then, by the immutable obstacle that is Hamas, as will any hope of eventual coexistence between Israel and the people of the Gaza Strip.