MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Israel now faces unprecedented international pressure to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip, but so far the Israeli government is not budging.
Sheera Frenkel reports from Tel Aviv.
(Soundbite of chanting)
SHEERA FRENKEL: These protesters have gathered on one of Israel's southern beaches to decry the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip. On the scene in front of them are navy boats, many of which patrol the Gaza coastline to enforce the siege.
In Israel, protesters like these are in the minority. This group numbered fewer than 30, a far cry away from the hundreds that gathered to support the blockade earlier this week in Tel Aviv.
While the international community has voiced unprecedented criticism of the blockade, few in Israel question it. It was imposed in June 2007 when Hamas militants seized control of Gaza, after routing forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli political scientist Menachem Klein says the policy began as a way to weaken Hamas, but it hasn't succeeded.
Dr. MENACHEM KLEIN (Department of Political Science, Bar Illan University): The way that Israel manages the blockade is unfortunately a collective punishment, brutality against civilians in order to bring about a political change. That's exactly what Israel wants. Israeli policy of punishing collectively the Palestinians who voted for Gaza, who are under the Hamas regime, did not help in the past, did not convince the Gazan people to revolt against their government.
FRENKEL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu staunchly defended Israel's decision to maintain the blockage in a public address earlier this week. He said it prevented militants in the Gaza Strip from acquiring weapons that they would use to attack Israel.
Ronen Bergman, a senior analyst for the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, says that the Israeli government sees the blockade as an important security precaution.
Dr. RONEN BERGMAN (Senior Analyst, Yedioth Ahronoth): The mindset that has been leading the Israeli decision-making process in last few years is: We should whatever we can to preserve Israeli security. That might be Israeli national pride and puts almost no significance and no attention to the international community.
FRENKEL: But Bergman says that Israel will eventually be compelled to consider other options.
Dr. BERGMAN: Israel is now in the most severe tight spot it has been vis-a-vis the international community in years. I think that Israel would need to buy its way out. And maybe as in a partial lifting of the sea blockade over Gaza, maybe by building a sort of a mechanism under international supervision of a sterile port in which other countries would guarantee Israel that the merchandise and the shipment of goods into Gaza are being inspected.
FRENKEL: Officially, Israel has refused to consider those options. But privately, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials have confirmed that various alternatives to the blockade have been discussed.
A number of foreign leaders have offered other ideas. Tony Blair, the envoy of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers, has suggested an international naval force comprised of European states to control maritime traffic to Gaza.
Bergman thinks Israel should these options quickly. At least one boat, the Rachel Corrie, is expected to try and breach the blockade this weekend.
Dr. BERGMAN: I know that the next flotilla is going to receive a very different welcoming. Nobody would take the risk to send troops to the decks of the next flotilla.
FRENKEL: What will happen is anyone's guess, says Bergman. But he's sure the pressure for a change in Israel's policy will continue to mount.
For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel in Tel Aviv.
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