Israel Announces Let-up to Gaza Siege - but Only in English

Prime Minister's office issues two statements, one in English announcing plan to ease blockade, one in Hebrew omitting to mention the decision.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The Prime Minister's Office announced on Thursday that the security cabinet had agreed to relax Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip, but as it turns out, no binding decision was ever made during the cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting.Credit: Archive

The Prime Minister's Office issued a press release in English following the meeting, which was also sent to foreign diplomats, was substantially different than the Hebrew announcement – according to the English text, a decision was made to ease the blockade, but in the Hebrew text there was no mention of any such decision.

It is not clear whether this discrepancy was a deliberate attempt to buy time in the face of international pressure, or a clerical omission on behalf of the Prime Minister's Office.

The cabinet ministers held a long discussion on Wednesday and another one Thursday morning on the topic of altering Israel's policy following the three-year siege on the Hamas ruled territory. The siege was imposed after Hamas violently seized control over the Gaza Strip in 2007. The aim of the discussions was to approve a plan drafted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the envoy of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators Tony Blair. The discussions spanned a total of six hours, but no decision was ever made.

During both meetings, many ministers voiced their opinions regarding the blockade, and the defense establishment presented the plans for the "liberalization" of the blockade. However, upon concluding the discussions, the ministers did not vote on any binding practical draft of the decision. In fact, the policy by which the government is currently bound is the one decided by the security cabinet during the previous term of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, by which the blockade remains as it was.

Two official statements came out of the Prime Minister's Office in regard to the security cabinet meeting – one in Hebrew for the Israeli media and another in English for the foreign media and foreign diplomats. The English version said that "It was agreed to liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza [and] expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision." The Hebrew version addressed mainly remarks made by Netanyahu, but failed to mention any decision or agreement.

The Hebrew version also failed to mention whether the prime minister's position was formally approved. "Israel will alter the system in order to allow more civilian goods into Gaza," the Hebrew statement read.

In addition to the English statement, word was sent to foreign consulates and embassies indicating that the decision made by the security cabinet will be implemented immediately. However, according to the officials charged with the actual monitoring of the transfer of goods into Gaza, they have not been notified of any change in policy as a result of the cabinet meeting.

A senior defense official said Thursday that "there was every intention to increase the transfer of goods into Gaza even before the cabinet meeting. We have notified the Palestinians, regardless of the cabinet meeting, that we will allow the entry of food items, house wares, writing implements, mattresses and toys. Beyond that, we have not said a thing."
Sources at the Prime Minister's Office admitted that there was no decision, and no vote, during the security cabinet meeting. One of the sources said that "it was a briefing by the prime minister," and another source said it was a "declaration of intent."

"A meeting will be held soon, and we hope that a binding decision will be taken then," the prime minister's office said, explaining that the reason for the delay is "the need for continued contact with allies within the international community in order to gain support for the liberalization plan." This despite the fact that most of the international community has already voiced support for the plan, following a campaign launched by Blair, who drafted the plan with Netanyahu.



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