Erakat says Gaza siege is cracking (and she’ll be speaking in New York next week)

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Noura Erakat is a Palestinian attorney, activist and co-editor of Jadaliyya. A true star of the movement for human rights in Palestine, she will be our guest next week in New York at our May 19th panel discussion on the Goldstone Report and its repercussions, along with Naomi Klein, Col. Desmond Travers (the Irish member of the Goldstone mission) and Lizzy Ratner. Please come, it’s just $11 a pop, our moderator is the elegant and effortless Laura Flanders whom I heard narrate Seven Jewish Children at the New York Theatre Workshop a while back. I’m in the audience that night, and am looking forward to being entertained and informed.

Meanwhile, here at Al Jazeera, Erakat offers a political/legal analysis of why the Gaza blockade is cracking under international pressure, notably following the flotilla attack of a year ago and the Egyptian revolution, and Israel will be able to do little about it.

The interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, has described support for the blockade by the previous Egyptian regime as “disgraceful“. While Israeli officials have responded to this announcement with alarm, they have limited capacity to undermine the new Egyptian government’s prerogative…

The White House not only supports an easing of the siege, but it also supports Egypt’s post-revolution government. Shortly after Mubarak’s departure, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to congratulate the new government – and promised it diplomatic support as well as economic aid. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the US will challenge Egypt’s decision, which reflects the US’ blockade policy as well as the US-brokered AMA [Agreement on Movement and Access], and risk undermining the government’s nascent development. 

Finally, within Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political support necessary to take any significant risks. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused Netanyahu of isolating Israel and stated that her Kadima party would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition even in the face of September’s “political tsunami”. Livni also opposes the Palestinian unity government, but explains “there is a difference between defending Israel and aiding the survival of a prime minister that only damages the country”.

In light of broad support for the Palestinian unity government, frustration with the ongoing blockade, enthusiasm for Egypt’s new government, and Netanyahu’s tenuous domestic standing, it is neither likely that Israel can mobilise significant political opposition to Egypt’s new policy, nor use force to respond to opening of the Rafah crossing. 

Buoyed by impunity, the cover afforded by turmoil in the region, and the desire to establish its qualitative military edge in the region, Israel may nevertheless employ a military option to respond to the reopened crossing. Even if it does not use force at Rafah, it may brandish its military prowess by targeting the forthcoming Gaza flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza’s shores in late June. In light of the political balance, Israel’s choice to use force without a tangible military threat will exacerbate its already waning legitimacy.

Escaping this political trapping leaves Israel with little other choice than to urge the US to act on its behalf. Although the US Congress has already demonstrated its willingness, the Obama administration has yet to show whether it will again intervene in this part of the fast-transforming Middle East – a region where US interests continue to hang in the balance.

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