MESS Report / Easing of Gaza Blockade Marks Victory for Flotilla Activists

Enforcement of the siege has all but ended - part of the price Israel is paying to restore its international reputation after its disastrous flotilla raid.

Despite the contradictory statements issued by the Prime Minister's Office yesterday, the general direction is clear. Whether the decision has already been made, as the English statement indicates, or will become official only at a later stage, as the Hebrew statement implies, Israel has folded.

A Palestinian man carries a sack of wheat inside a shop in northern Gaza Strip June 8, 2010.

Enforcement of the blockade - the purpose of the government's order to stop a Gaza-bound flotilla by force on May 31 - has effectively ended. This is part of the price Israel is paying the international community in order to end the flotilla affair and prevent a rerun of the uproar that led to last year's Goldstone report.

But perhaps the price is not so high. Israel will give up something that was unnecessary anyway: the ban on allowing food products and other goods classified as "luxuries" into Gaza. This ban was actually a collective punishment for the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israel will probably compromise on allowing building materials into the Gaza Strip, because this embargo is preventing the reconstruction of neighborhoods that were destroyed during last year's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

According to international organizations, 3,400 Palestinian houses were destroyed during the offensive.

The battle against arms smuggling into Gaza will continue. And if there is ultimately no choice but to end the naval blockade, Israel will consider involving international forces in searches of Gaza-bound ships.

The right flank of Netanyahu's cabinet is far from thrilled with these steps, and the same goes for senior defense establishment officials. But when the Obama administration insists, the Netanyahu government gives in.

The world, of course, is responding to Israel's statement in English. But Jordan's reaction typifies the international community's impression: "Cosmetic measures," Amman's statement sniffed, though adding that it was a step in the "right direction."

As far as Gaza's people are concerned, the situation will not change much.

The extensive smuggling via tunnels from Sinai has made up for many of the shortages Israel tried to cause. Halva, jam and chocolate have found their way into Gaza in roundabout ways, while the official ban on letting them in brought Israel nothing but embarrassment.

The recent cabinet discussions appear to be cementing Israel's image in the Arab - and perhaps also the Western - world as a state that mainly understands the language of force.

The Turkish passengers who beat Israeli naval commandos with clubs on the deck of the Mavi Marmara have scored a victory. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will now be portrayed as the leader who broke Israel's resistance.

But even so, a partial easing of the blockade at an inconvenient time is better than continuing the current flawed policy.