President Obama has begun to make some significant statements about the Israeli military assault on the flotilla bringing aid to the Gaza Strip.
But the key word is "some." He continues to stop short of the meaningful statement he could make — a practical call, echoing that of other world leaders, who are friends of Israel but also realists, for lifting the blockade of Gaza.
Referring to the death toll, the president said, "You’ve got loss of life that was unnecessary. So we are calling for an effective investigation of everything that happened."
The president says, "I think that we need to know what all the facts are. But it’s not premature to say to the Israelis and to say to the Palestinians, and to say to all the parties in the region, that the status quo is unsustainable."
Speaking of Israel’s continued isolation of the Gaza Strip, Obama says, "you’ve got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future."
But Obama continues to stop short of echoing the calls by British Prime Minister David Cameron for lifting the blockade. (Cameron says: "Friends of Israel – and I count myself a friend of Israel – should be saying to the Israelis that the blockade actually strengthens Hamas’s grip on the economy and on Gaza, and it’s in their own interests to lift it and allow these vital supplies to get through.")
Obama does not need to take his cue from international leaders, however.
He could, and should, take counsel from two of his earliest and most enthusiatic supporters in the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination: California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who now chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, and Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, one of the few members of the House to make a serious fact-findiing visit to Gaza in recent years.
In a letter to Obama, they write: "The United States must… work with its allies to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Recent events are undoubtedly linked to the counterproductive blockade on Gaza, which punishes ordinary citizens and strengthens Hamas’s control over commerce. The Israeli blockade on Gaza has left more than 80 percent of Gazans dependent on some form of food aid."
Lee and Ellison frame their remarks, as Cameron does, as a call to do the right thing not only for the Palestinians of Gaza but for Israel.
"As friends of Israel, we are concerned for Israel’s security and we believe that an undernourished and unemployed Gazan population does not promote this goal," they write. "Israel’s long-term security interests are not served by the blockade of civilian goods to Gaza, as it provides fodder for those who promote extremism against innocent Israelis."