Israel Must Turn New Leaf With Gaza - Not Just Turkey

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Palestinian children climb on a portable tank used to distribute water near Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, June 20, 2016.
Palestinian children climb on a portable tank used to distribute water near Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, June 20, 2016.Credit: Khalil Hamra, AP

The emerging reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey will hopefully be signed soon. On Sunday, representatives of both countries are expected to go over the draft and declare full concurrence on all its clauses. After a few weeks, they will sign a formal agreement and six years of diplomatic and military disconnect will come to an end between two countries that until 2010 were close allies on both official and civilian levels.

It was an unnecessary rift that caused enormous damage to both Turkey and Israel. It began with the Gaza-bound aid flotilla which intended to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. Israel responded with force. In a confrontation with passengers on the lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara, nine Turkish nationals were killed.

Israel, seeing the flotilla's intent as a move to undermine its sovereignty, insisted its actions was justified. Turkey, which had given governmental support to the ships, couldn’t let the killing of its citizens pass. Each side became entrenched in its positions and the relationship between the two states unraveled until each was considered an enemy by the other. It's said that affronts, humiliation and prestige are among the most underappreciated factors in diplomatic relations. The flotilla crisis proved the truth in that statement.

One of the major points of contention during the reconciliation talks dealt with the fate of the Gaza Strip. The area is still under blockade and constitutes one of the world’s largest prisons. The last clause of the agreement that was resolved during the recent deliberations does not remove either the sea or land blockade, as the Turks had requested. However, it does allow Turkey to provide unlimited aid to the Strip via Ashdod Port and to build a power station and hospital in the territory.

Despite the achievements on this point, Gaza continues to be a real threat waiting to erupt. A report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development published last year said that if the current economic situation in the Strip continues, the enclave could be declared uninhabitable by 2020. The report referred to data taken over eight years during which Gaza had been blocked from economic development and cited the disastrous consequences of three wars with Israel in the previous six years.

The Israel-Turkey agreement does not remove this threat and does not release Israel from its responsibility for the lives of 1.8 million people who have been living under a blockade for a decade. As Israel is poised to turn over a new leaf with Turkey, it must also turn over a new leaf with regard to Gaza. Instead of another round of damaging and unnecessary warfare, it should remove the blockade on its own initiative.

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