Far from relaxing its economic blockade on Gaza as its negotiators sit across the table from their Palestinian counterparts in the latest attempt at peace talks, Israel has tightened the screw – reimposing a ban, lifted just a month ago, on the transfer of construction materials into the occupied territory.
It took the decision last week after discovering a 1.5 mile (2.4km) tunnel running from Gaza into Israel. The ban on building materials had existed for years on the grounds that Israel thought the materials would be used for building what they called “terror tunnels” from Gaza into Israel from which to launch attacks. It had been finally lifted as part of the gradual easing of the economic blockade on Gaza. Now it is back.
Meanwhile talks continue between the two sides, but very little progress has been achieved since late July over 10 weeks of negotiations which have seen Palestinian, Israeli and US negotiators discuss the release of Palestinian prisoners and the construction of settlements in the West Bank.
Prisoner release opens old wounds
Action on both counts has been taken, but has failed to generate positive progress: the staggered release of 104 Palestinians has been due since the 1999 Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, and for many prisoners their incarceration predates the 1993 Oslo Accords. On August 13, 26 prisoners were released, but 78 remain in jail, with the second group scheduled for release on October 29. This group includes many men serving lengthy jail sentences for murder.