Even before the Gaza flotilla and the incident involving the Marmara in May 2010, Israel’s National Security Council (NSC) had already suggested that the closure of the Gaza Strip be eased. Uzi Arad, former chairman of the NSC recently said (Hebrew and in English) that: “Other policy options aimed at easing the closure and reducing international pressure were formulated during secret meetings”, but according to Arad, despite the fact that the NSC requested that the cabinet hold a discussion on the Gaza policy in one of its meetings, the attempt “was blocked”. Arad refused to say “who and what blocked” the discussion, but called the process “a slipshod affair”.
This “block” is puzzling all the more considering the fact, exposed in the state comptroller’s report (Hebrew) last week, that it was the prime minister himself who ordered the NSC to formulate alternatives to the closure, back in 2009. According to the report, on June 10, 2009, the prime minister instructed the NSC to “examine various possibilities with respect to easing the transfer of goods through the Gaza Strip crossings” (p. 76). The NSC produced a position paper in which it described the situation in the Gaza Strip, summarized the points of international pressure to remove the closure and presented alternatives to the policy. The paper was distributed to the defense ministry, the foreign affairs ministry, the Israel Security Agency and the prime minister, but who knows what became of it.
In 2009, the closure of Gaza had reached its peak: toys, school books and toilet paper were considered luxuries and were not permitted in. We don’t know what the NSC recommended in its position paper – the comptroller did not provide details in the report – however, we know that there was little to no public debate in Israel about the closure at that point in time. Very few questioned whether the policy was serving its purpose or wondered about the impact it was having on the people of Gaza. One can only imagine what would have happened if such a debate had taken place and how much needless suffering could have been avoided. This did not happen. It is now 2012. Israel currently allows most goods to enter the Gaza Strip, but continues to impose sweeping restrictions on the passage of people and goods to the West Bank and Israel. Hopefully there is a document waiting on the prime minister’s desk at this very moment that suggests alternatives to the failed policy on Gaza and that this time, public debate about it will take place as well.