Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is opposed to lifting the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip because this would bolster Hamas, according to what he told United States President Barack Obama during their meeting at the White House Wednesday. Egypt also supports this position.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once more put off announcing the creation of a committee of inquiry into the naval commando raid on the Gaza Strip flotilla, and the matter will not be brought before the cabinet for a vote this morning.
Netanyahu and his advisers had hoped to announce the establishment of a committee of inquiry as early as yesterday evening for a vote in the cabinet today. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister's Bureau said yesterday evening that the conditions have not matured for such an announcement "due to political reasons."
Talks have been held with the U.S. administration and several European countries to rally support for the mandate of the committee of inquiry and approval of its makeup. The Americans have rejected - a number of times - Israel's proposals and asked that a retired Supreme Court justice head the probe. The issue was resolved when Justice Yaakov Tirkel was proposed for the post.
The Americans have also been busy with the issue of sanctions against Iran at the United Nations Security Council and also with the visit to the U.S. capital by Abbas and so exchanges with Netanyahu's bureau on the committee of inquiry were delayed.
Apparently, there is another cause for delay involving exchanges between the Americans, Israel and European countries concerning the proposed foreign observers on the committee of inquiry and their authority. One of the foreign observers on the committee will be a senior American jurist. Washington has made it clear that the administration would like at least two European observers to be involved in order to strengthen the legitimacy of the Israeli panel.
The issue of the Gaza flotilla and lifting the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip was the main topic of discussion between Obama and Abbas last Wednesday night.
European diplomats updated by the White House on the talks said that Abbas had stressed to Obama the need of opening the border crossings into the Gaza Strip and the easing of the siege, but only in ways that do not bolster Hamas.
One of the points that Abbas raised is that the naval blockade imposed by Israel on the Strip should not be lifted at this stage. The European diplomats said Egypt has made it clear to Israel, the U.S and the European Union that it is also opposes the lifting of the naval blockade because of the difficulty in inspecting the ships that would enter and leave the Gaza port.
Abbas told Obama that actions easing the blockage should be done with care and undertaken gradually so it will not be construed as a victory for Hamas. The Palestinian leader also stressed that the population in the Gaza Strip must be supported, and that pressure should be brought to bear on Israel to allow more goods, humanitarian assistance and building materials for reconstruction. Abbas, however, said this added aid can be done by opening land crossings and other steps that do not include the lifting of the naval blockade.
On Friday, Netanyahu met with Quartet representative Tony Blair in his office. This was the third meeting between the two during the last eight days, and centered on ways of easing the blockade on the Strip.
Senior Israeli officials and European diplomats say there is agreement that policy on the blockade should be altered, but this should be done carefully and discretely.
"There is agreement that no major declarations should be made so Hamas will not to be allowed to score points," a source familiar with the talks with Blair said.
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