Monday, December 08, 2008

Qatar should call Israel's bluff

From Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers:
Israel is taking unusual new steps to discourage Arab and Muslim nations from challenging its prolonged economic siege of the Hamas-led Gaza Strip by sending aid ships to ease the desperate circumstances of the 1.5 million Gaza Palestinians.

In recent days, Israel prodded Qatar, a friendly Persian Gulf nation, into calling off a delegation preparing to transport aid from Cyprus to Gaza, according to officials briefed on what they said were high-level talks.

Hours before a Qatar aid group was scheduled to board a boat Thursday with $2 million in cancer medication, they abruptly canceled the trip.

The Qatar charity would have been the first such Arab aid group to challenge Israel's ban on international boats traveling to Gaza.

Instead, Israel urged Qatar officials to send any Gaza-bound aid via Israel, Israeli government officials said.

"The message was delivered, not only to them, but to anybody else that wanted to transfer aid to Gaza, that there is a mechanism on how to do it," said Andy David, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. "We will not change our policy, which gives us the option on how to do it, while not allowing unauthorized boats to reach Gaza."

If everyone really cared about helping Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, here's what would happen:

Qatar would avail themselves of Israel's offer. They would transfer their aid, perhaps through Jordan, with the following conditions:

* Israel has the right to inspect the aid and stop anything that could be dangerous to Israeli citizens

* A small Qatari delegation would travel with the aid convoy to ensure that it gets distributed directly to qualified aid agencies and not to terrorists

Here, everyone wins: Israel can maintain its security; Qatar can become a bigger player in helping Palestinian Arabs, Israeli relations improves with the Arab world, and Gazans get the aid they need. (Tzipi Livni visited Qatar earlier this year, there is no reason that Qataris cannot go through Israel to reach Gaza.)

Of course, this only works if we assume that the Arab world really cares about helping Gazans.