So far, the Obama administration has expressed “deep concern” over the Israeli air and sea assault on the flotilla heading for Gaza and called for an investigation of the facts. That won’t cut it.
Of course, even that is too much for right-wing and neoconservative critics of Obama, who long for the good old days when the administration of George W. Bush reflexively supported everything that Israel did. Elliot Abrams, for instance, who served as a top official at the National Security Council under Bush, blasted Obama for criticizing Israel’s policy of expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and for two recent actions at the UN: first, support for the nonproliferation resolution that called on Israel to open its nuclear facilities for inspection, and second, support for the unanimous UN Security Council resolution that criticized (mildly) Israel’s raid on the flotilla.
But in fact America’s response to the deadly attack has been mild. The United States has refused to condemn it. Yesterday, General Jones, the national security adviser, huddled with Israel’s Ambassador Oren and with Uzi Arad, the controversial, right-wing Israeli national security adviser, to work out a common policy that the Washington Post reports focused on “how to contain the immediate diplomatic fallout from the raid.” Secretary of State Clinton called Israeli Defense Minister Barak to say that “we should be extremely cautious in both what we say and what we do in coming days.”
Cautious? No, the United States ought to be outspoken. The New York Times, in a scathing editorial today, slams Israel (“no excuse”) and then raises the broader question of the blockage of Gaza itself:
“At this point, it should be clear that the blockade is unjust and against Israel’s long-term security.”
And the Times says Obama should forthrightly condemn the attack and demand an end to the blockade:
“On Tuesday, President Obama expressed his ‘deep regret’ over the flotilla incident. He is doing Israel no favors with such a tepid response. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown time and again that he prefers bullying and confrontation over diplomacy. Washington needs to make clear to him just how dangerous and counterproductive that approach is.
“Mr. Obama needs to state clearly that the Israeli attack was unacceptable and back an impartial international investigation. The United States should also join the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, France, Russia and China — in urging Israel to permanently lift the blockade.”
But there’s no sign, yet, that the Obama administration is prepared to break with its over-cautious, toe-the-line stance. At least not in public. Behind the scenes, there are reports that the United States might be rethinking its refusal to talk to Hamas. Having long avoided dealing with Hamas — for instance, in trying to restart "proximity talks" between Israel and Fatah — the United States has gone along with Israel’s absolute prohibition on contacts with the Gaza-based movement. According to Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader, and Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, however, Hamas has been in contact with a steady stream of American emissaries, all of whom have gotten the green light from the White House or the State Department. So far, the Obama administration hasn’t budged from its official no-talks rule, but the Israeli attack on the peace flotilla will create more pressure for a change in the official American policy.
That would be welcome, and long overdue.