US President Barack Obama appeared to patronize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday by waiting until after Israel decided to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip before publicly inviting Netanyahu to the White House.
"The United States welcomes the new policy towards Gaza announced by the government of Israel, which responds to the calls of many in the international community," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Hours earlier, as Netanyahu was announcing the new Gaza blockade policy, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told reporters that the Israeli leader would be invited to visit Obama on July 6. Netanyahu was scheduled to visit the White House in late May, but was told by the Obama team to stay away after an Israeli raid on a Gaza blockade-busting flotilla turned violent.
Nine so-called "peace" activists were killed in the raid after attacking the Israeli boarding party.
Israel's new blockade policy will allow all civilian goods that cannot be used in the manufacture of weapons into the Gaza Strip via the territories land borders. That means non-essential goods such as cigarettes and candy are no longer restricted. Cement, which can and has been used to build Hamas bunkers, will still be restricted to supervised projects being carried out by international organizations.
Netanyahu aides noted that the previous blockade policy was put in place by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and should have never included basic good such as food spices and make-up. The new policy, they said, is more clearly focused on potentially dangerous items, and can therefore be more easily defended on the international stage.
Israel's full maritime blockade of Gaza will remain in place.
While enormous amounts of essential goods have been entering Gaza every day via Israel, the lack of non-essential and luxury items had resulted in a booming smuggling industry running under Gaza's border with Egypt. Hamas made a lot of money on these smuggling operations by charging hefty taxes. Netanyahu hopes that easing the blockade and allowing such items to enter Gaza via normal means will end up weakening Hamas.
Meanwhile, the Free Gaza movement that operated the fatal blockade-busting flotilla last month celebrated Netanyahu's decision as a victory for the group. Free Gaza spokesmen said that without the flotilla and the violence used by some of its members, Israel would still be denying Gazan's regular access to certain goods.
Some Israeli observers said that while Netanyahu's decision may indeed help weaken Hamas, the timing is problematic in that it will encourage other foreign elements to try and break what remains of the blockade, setting the stage for more confrontations like that aboard the Mavi Marmara.