Turkey-Israel deal leaves Gaza siege intact
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, Jun 27 2016
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip expressed anger and dismay on Monday about the deal normalizing relations between Israel and Turkey that leaves them under a suffocating siege. An Israeli human rights group that monitors the decade-old Israeli blockade of Gaza has also confirmed that the deal does not end Israel’s tight control over the territory that has greatly exacerbated the devastation to Gaza’s economy and society from three major Israeli military assaults since 2008. Turkey put its once close military and political relations with Israel in the deep freeze six years ago, after Israel attacked the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara as it sailed in international waters as part of a flotilla to Gaza in May 2010, killing nine people and fatally injuring a tenth. Turkey imposed unprecedented military sanctions on Israel in 2011 over the incident. Efforts at reconciliation had been stalemated by the conditions demanded by Erdogan: an Israeli apology and compensation over the Mavi Marmara attack and an end to the siege of Gaza. The breakthrough apparently came when Turkey dropped the third and biggest of these demands and accepted that Israel would maintain its blockade. In a face-saving measure, Israel will allow Turkey to increase its “humanitarian” role and infrastructure projects in the besieged territory. The Turkish government has tried to spin the deal positively. A senior official told EI:
We will deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military products to Gaza and make infrastructure investments in the area. This will include new residential buildings and a 200-bed hospital. Concrete steps will be taken to address the energy and water crisis in Gaza. The amount of electricity and drinking water to Gaza residents will increase and new power plants will be constructed.
At a press conference in Ankara, Turkish PM Yildirim asserted that the siege on Gaza had been “largely lifted” as a result of the agreement. Yildirim confirmed that Israel would pay $20m in compensation to the families of the dead and to injured survivors of the Mavi Marmara raid. He said a first shipment of 10,000 tons of Turkish aid would be delivered to Gaza later this week through the Israeli port of Ashdod. At a simultaneous news conference in Rome, Netanyahu hailed the agreement for its “strategic importance” to Israel and affirmed that what he called the “defensive maritime blockade” of the occupied Gaza Strip would remain. Netanyahu also said that the deal gives IOF troops protection from prosecution. Victims of the Mavi Marmara attack have pursued justice in Turkish and US courts as well as in the International Criminal Court. The deal leaves the status of these lawsuits unclear. According to the Turkish official:
[The agreement will] make it possible for Turkey to launch major projects in the West Bank, including the Jenin industrial zone.
But as I documented in my 2014 book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Palestinian analysts and rights groups say the Jenin industrial zone and others like it, far from helping them, may only make them more vulnerable to environmental, labor and political damage and exploitation. Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that monitors Israel’s blockade of Gaza, said the deal did nothing to challenge Israel’s “shameful” control over the lives of 1.9 million Palestinians in Gaza. Gisha’s director Tania Hary wrote in a scathing op-ed in Haaretz:
What Netanyahu has given Erdogan is not a change in policy, but rather a circumscribed gesture, like allowing him to put down plastic buildings in a game of Monopoly.
Palestinian commentators from Gaza agreed. Refaat Alareer, an educator and writer tweeted:
The Turkish-Israeli deal is a scandal and an insult to Palestine/Gaza and to the blood of Turkish activists.
Alareer called the agreement a “deal of shame.”
Gaza writer Omar Ghraieb tweeted:
Lifting Gaza siege means freedom of movement, not more food and aid. Is that too hard to comprehend?
Ghraieb added in rebuke to the Turkish prime minister:
It’s not acceptable to speak lightly of Gaza siege saying it’s largely lifted when it’s still affecting lives of two million people.
Gaza-based translator Jason Shawa tweeted:
We want lift of the siege, not your charity Erdogan, Keep it!
The succinct reaction of Gaza journalist Nidal al-Mughrabi was:
Turkey’s interests first, ties with Gaza later.
Turkey has been under pressure for years, especially from the Obama administration, to mend its ties with Israel. As a consequence of the bloody civil war in Syria, in which Ankara has supported forces seeking the overthrow of the government of Assad, Turkey has faced a deteriorating regional situation. Bomb attacks that have killed dozens of people in Turkish cities in recent months have contributed to a catastrophic 40% decline in tourism. Netanyahu has also hinted that the rapprochement could pave the way for lucrative deals over Mediterranean gas reserves involving Turkey. Yildirim was more cautious, saying that future cooperation would “be tied to the efforts of the two countries.” Shares in Turkish energy firms that work in Israel rose sharply on news of the agreement, as did Israeli energy stocks in Tel Aviv. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah welcomed the Israel-Turkey rapprochement, but there was no immediate reaction from Hamas, which has tried in recent days to limit the potential negative fallout from the Turkey-Israel negotiations. Over the weekend, Khaled Meshaal met with Erdogan in Ankara. A statement from Hamas said:
[We] confirmed to the Turkish leadership the demands of our people, especially the lifting of the siege, confident that Turkey will succeed in this matter.
In an apparent response to Israeli demands that Erdogan shut down Hamas’ activities in Turkey, the senior Turkish official informed EI:
There are absolutely no references to Hamas in the agreement.
But the reality is that while Turkey is going to deliver more aid to Gaza, assuming Israel keeps its side of the bargain, it will only do so under the siege conditions imposed by Israel. It will be difficult for many Palestinians to avoid the conclusion that Turkey has joined other members of the so-called international community, especially the UN, in helping Israel administer the siege rather than challenging its continuation. The UN has been complicit in administering the siege under the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which allows building supplies to trickle in under tight Israeli control. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is illegal and violates the very “right to life” of the Palestinian people, according to a confidential legal opinion prepared for a major aid agency that works closely with the UN, as was revealed by EI in January.