The fallout from Israel’s air and sea attack on the Free Gaza Movement’s flotilla of aid ships is only just beginning, but it will be immense.
Most important, the event is likely to force the international community, including the United States, to open a dialogue with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza. The blockade of Gaza can no longer be sustained politically. Today, Egypt opened the border with Gaza for passage of aid and people, and world pressure on Israel to undo the blockade is likely to be overwhelming. In that, the Free Gaza Movement and its allies have succeeded, though at the cost of many dead and wounded.
Protests are building worldwide, and even Israeli apologists are admitting that the attack on the flotilla was a catastrophic blunder.
Martin Indyk, the head of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and a longtime ally of Israel, told the New York Times that it’s now the responsibility of the United States to extricate Israel from the mess it’s created in Gaza, and he proposed what is likely to be a workable solution: the lifting of the Israeli blockade, a ceasefire by Hamas, and the exchange of political prisoners held on either side. (Hamas hold Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier.)
Of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu may reject such advice, but in that case Israel is likely to suffer far more severe international isolation. The big question: Will President Obama finally decide to end the foolish U.S refusal to talk to Hamas? (George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy, has never visited Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians. Sending him there, immediately, is the most important first step.)
The flotilla was carrying 10,000 tons of cement, construction supplies, wood, glass, material for a damaged water treatment plant, prefab housing and so on, not weapons. Also on board the ships were 700 peace activists, including pro-Hamas sympathizers, Turkish citizens affiliated with a Muslim charity and people from all over the world. They’ve been taken to Ashdod, an Israeli port.
Robert Malley, in the same Times piece that quoted Indyk, echoes that it’s long past time to turn attention to Gaza. In an exquisitely mixed metaphor, he said: “If you ignore the huge thorn of Gaza, it will come back to bite you.” Aside from the fact that one cannot be bitten by a thorn, it’s true. And the many months of rumors that President Obama is truly concerned about Gaza while keeping those concerns private mean that it’s time for the president to declare what he thinks. So far the U.S. response has been mealy-mouthed. (Even the Turkish ambassador to the United States said, “We would have expected a much stronger reaction [from the United States] than this.” Prime Minister Erdogan called the Israeli action “inhumane state terrorism” and added: “This attack has clearly shown that Israel has no desire for peace in the region.” Strong words.)
Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said that the EU will oppose the blockade more forcefully. “The EU doesn’t accept the continued policy of closure,” she said.