Israel Must Continue Gaza Blockade, Says ... Mahmoud Abbas?

There couldn't be much more pressure on Israel at the moment to end the blockade on Gaza.

Following the traumatic flotilla raid, the international community has determined that Israel deserves to do penance for the events on the Marmara by lifting its "siege" on Gaza. The pressure is coming from all sides, though most heavily from Europe. Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero has decided that the European Union has to "exert strong diplomatic pressure" on Israel to stop blockading Gaza. Egypt's Amr Moussa, the current head of the Arab League, made a rare visit to Gaza and declared that the League would go to the UN to demand Israel lift the blockade. Even the Obama administration has joined in, calling the blockade "unsustainable." Internally, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says the Gazan economy is "collapsing under the siege."

Israel has serious reasons to oppose opening the Gaza borders. On a security level, it does not want materials to enter Gaza that it has good reason to believe will be used by Hamas as weaponry to attack Israel. But on a political and moral level, there is Gilad Shalit. The central role that Shalit's captivity plays in Israeli public opposition to ending or easing the blockade on Gaza is not fully communicated overseas, but domestically, it dominates. No Israeli government can be seen as handing over important bargaining chips as long as the Israeli soldier remains in enemy hands, as he has for four years in conditions that are in complete violation of international regulations regarding the treatment of prisoners. The Israeli public isn't in the mood to ease up on Hamas as Shalit's human rights are deprived.

And yet, the force of the international pressure is difficult to resist. The Netanyahu government has made moves to "revamp" the restrictions on goods and movement in and out of Gaza, while at the same time declaring the restrictions will not be lifted completely.

On the surface, it seems as if the Arab world is united in its call to "Free Gaza." However, while leaders of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank publicly chastise Israel for maintaining the "Gaza prison," some sources whisper a different story.

According to a report in Ha'aretz, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has let it be known that he isn't very happy about the prospect of a "Free Gaza," and he even let President Obama know it at their meeting last week:

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.