Ships adorned with banners and Palestinian flags in support of Gaza Strip residents, laden with consumer goods for a population that has been under siege for about four years, are threatening Israel. The Israeli government's response and its preparations to block the "peace flotilla" give the impression that Israel, not Gaza, is under a brutal siege.
Israel is finding it increasingly difficult to explain the rationale behind the blockade to the rest of the world. If it is intended to prevent Qassam rocket fire on Israel, then what was the reason for Operation Cast Lead? If Israel wants to use the blockade to put more pressure on the people of Gaza until they rise up against Hamas and topple it, or to spur Hamas to respond to the Israeli pressure, then the past four years have shown that this policy has failed.
Moreover, the suffering that Israel is causing 1.5 million people for this purpose is not only inhuman, but extremely detrimental to Israel's status around the world. If the pressure being put on Gaza is indeed the only effective measure, what is the point of the new law that aims to worsen the prison conditions for Hamas members behind bars? It seems the government is unable to develop an appropriate strategy to free abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, and is clutching at any straw to demonstrate some kind of "action."
But the Israeli government knows exactly the price it must pay to free Shalit. It has already conducted indirect negotiations with Hamas and even announced that it was willing to release a large number of prisoners who are members of the Islamic group. The deal has been held up due to a number of prisoners who committed extremely serious crimes whom Israel refuses to release.
Israel's firm refusal to free those prisoners is becoming its most costly move so far. Relations with Turkey have deteriorated significantly due to Israel's policy in Gaza.
Several European countries that also view Hamas as a terror organization criticize the blockade policy. Israeli goods are being boycotted, while world public opinion no longer accepts the siege. The number of people, including diplomats and public figures, taking part in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, clearly shows that.
Israel argues that there is no hunger in Gaza and that vital products enter the Strip regularly. Israel even said it was prepared to deliver the boats' contents to the Gaza Strip, but via Ashdod Port and using the Israel Defense Forces, not the boats directly.
If so, this indicates that Israel is not opposed to the aid itself, but to the demonstration of support for Gaza's people. However, this show of support could have been prevented from the outset had Israel lifted the pointless blockade and allowed Gazans to live normal lives.
Even if Israel manages to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza, it will still have to contend with other demonstrations of support. The government would do well to decide right away to resume indirect talks with Hamas, to be more flexible about releasing prisoners and to lift the siege on Gaza. This price may well turn out to be lower than the cost of the damage to Israel's status.