Senior officials with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have recommended the easing of border restrictions between Israel and the Gaza strip, Ha’aretz reported Wednesday. The move comes as officers say Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, is increasingly politically isolated from the outside world, which they said could open the possibility for a long-term calm if restrictions are eased.
Since 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, which they say is necessary to prevent Hamas -- a group that Israel considers a terrorist organization -- from building weapons or smuggling tunnels that have in the past been used to attack Israeli soldiers. The restrictions placed on Gaza's borders, which human rights groups say have strangled Gaza’s economy, have been a point of international criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
One of the recommendations made by the senior officers included allowing Palestinians to travel abroad by leaving through the crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, which would require Israel to lift some of its restrictions on the Erez Crossing into southern Israel. Another recommendation advised expanding the use of the Kerem Shalom crossing to allow greater merchandise into the Gaza strip, where both imports and exports are heavily restricted. The officers also suggested allowing Palestinians to obtain permits to work in Israel, as they did prior to the restrictions placed on Gaza in 2007.
Much of Gaza still sits in ruins from last year's seven week war, which saw thousands of homes destroyed and around 2,200 Palestinians and 71 Israelis killed. Because construction material into the strip is restricted – as Israel has said materials like concrete can be used to make weapons or underground tunnels – much of Gaza is yet rebuilt. A senior officer said eased restrictions could allow for Gaza to be rebuilt, which would, in turn, heighten Israel's security as well, Ha’aretz reported. “As long as the basic economic problems in Gaza remain, we will also have the potential for renewed military conflict, without connection to the extent of deterrence achieved in the last war,” he said.
A policy shift would ultimately require the approval of the security cabinet and Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu, who has reiterated his stance of Hamas as a dangerous terrorist organization. President Reuven Rivlin said Monday during a memorial ceremony for soldier’s killed last summer that ultimately any easing of the restrictions on Gaza would have to first protect Israel’s safety. “The rehabilitation of Gaza is also an Israeli interest, but the only condition for this rehabilitation is that Gaza cease being a front for attacks on Israel,” Ha’aretz quoted him saying.