By James Gundun – Washington D.C.
Somewhere underground Israel defense officials debated alternate strategies to handle future aid ships headed for the Gaza strip. ‘Nothing has been decided,’ but ‘there are a lot of ideas out there.’ The leading one would allow aid ships to enter Gaza after being inspected by UN and Israeli officials at Ashdod Port.
Though the sincerity of defense officials is always suspect, Israel’s military has additional motivation beyond the international community to work out a new system. The next flotilla could reach Gaza’s beach if escorted by Turkish and Iranian warships; Iran claims to be launching its own aid convey next week. Try as Israel will to deflect the blame onto Turkey or Iran, a naval confrontation would threaten the peace process and isolate it even further.
While half-arrangement may be incompatible to activists, they surely feel invigorated that Gaza blockade, however slowly, is crumbling behind Israel’s curtain. But it’s crumbling faster in front, where a river of insanity erodes the possibility of Israel reconciling with the international community. And the more isolated, the less chance Israel has of maintaining the blockade.
After glimpses of light, Israel continues branding Palestinian activists as “terrorists,” denying a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, killing four Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fighters, and building up pressure by denying an independent investigation into the incident. Though this defiance is partly for domestic consumption, internal concerns from Israel’s opposition, press, and public indicate the present government’s delusion is very real.
"Israel is under attack,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset. “The goal of the attack is to break the blockade on Hamas, that was justifiably imposed in order to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons that would be used against Israel. The blockade has been going on for years."
Many Israelis fear the direction Netanyahu is taking them. Less reported is the notion that while his actions have increasingly isolated Israel, the crisis has allegedly brought him closer together with US President Barack Obama. The White House had promised the Palestinians and the Muslim world to hold Israel accountable for any hostile actions.
Instead it’s using the crisis, Rahm Emanuel style, as an opportunity to mend US-Israeli relations.
According to Martin Indyk, “In the last few days, Obama and Netanyahu have been working much more closely together than they ever did in the past. The crisis has thrown them into a good deal of telephone conversations and efforts to try to deal with the situation. That may actually serve to rebuild and strengthen their relationship rather than weaken it.”
The thinking is likely that if Obama extracts Netanyahu from his jam and manages to placate the international community, maybe Netanyahu will reciprocate in negotiations with the Palestinians and ease the Gaza blockade.
This makes no sense given Netanyahu’s pattern of behavior, but nevertheless he and Obama have used the incident to “bond.” The crisis remains America and Israel vs. the international community as usual. It’s hard to imagine Obama turning permanently against the UN, but at this point he’s straining himself to keep this a bilateral issue with Netanyahu. Though they haven’t played the world, they are trying their best.
Yet their best isn’t cutting it.
Despite the high level of coordination, Israeli and US officials have frequently found themselves on different pages. Obama can’t help Netanyahu if he won’t help himself, and it’s been downhill since the initial synchronization to downplay the raid. Chaos still rules an investigation into the Freedom flotilla and the debate over Gaza.
Last weekend US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters, “We expect the Israeli government to conduct a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation that conforms to international standards and that gets to all the facts surrounding this investigation. We are confident that an investigation will take place.”
After days of fierce pressure Israel finally yielded to an internal probe with international observers, confirmed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But it should be noted that he also denied any investigation. Speaking on the heels of Netanyahu, Barak told the Knesset, "Israel will not let its soldiers be investigated whether in English [by an international probe] or in Hebrew [by an Israeli probe]."
Were a probe actually approved, the odds of eventual conflict between America and the UN are unlikely to diminish. The international community won’t allow Israel to police itself if it can help it, but neither may the White House.
“They’re waiting to see what we’ll come up with and then perhaps suggest modifications,” one Israeli official said. “They’re still waiting to see how it plays out in Israel.”
Now as the situation does play out, the Haaretz reports that Israel is waiting for Washington’s “green light.” Problem is, Israel’s offer is rumored to be insufficient to cover the White House’s own political needs. Which means Netanyahu is still trying to play Obama, not befriend him. Considering how each damages the other politically, it’s hard to believe anyone is getting closer.
In the most recent developments a Western source close to international discussions with Israel claims, "A quid pro quo deal is in the offing." In exchange for easing the blockade, the international community will rubber stamp Israel’s internal investigation. Britain is said to be spearheading the plan, likely a front to reduce to further anti-US sentiment. But Turkey is already gearing up Muslim countries to oppose the deal, and Britain denied the reports soon after they broke.
The longer Israel stalls on an investigation the more aid ships will be enticed to break the blockade, leading to an even deeper rift over Gaza. Vice President Joe Biden found himself all mixed up while in discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
“The status quo is unsustainable for all sides,” he said after Netanyahu defended the status quo, adding that the White House expects a “credible investigation.”
Worse for Biden, Egypt caught everyone off guard by restricting its side of the blockade. He had announced, “We are consulting closely with Egypt, as well as our other partners, on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security and political aspects of the situation in Gaza.”
It’s likely though that Mubarak simply told Biden the blockade was coming down at Rafah; US and Israeli officials had no comment. Said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki, "Egypt is the one that broke the blockade. We are not going to let the occupying power escape from its responsibilities."
“Only America” sounds like the unsubtle message.
The moral of the story is that even within this mass confusion, America still allows itself to be led by Israel: in the initial response, the UN, an investigation, and the blockade. Because Washington refuses to take command of the situation, Israel ends up dictating to it and the world. And most ominously, the White House refuses to adopt a realistic approach to the negotiating process, urging direct negotiations before and after the Freedom flotilla raid while simultaneously refusing to hold Israel accountable as promised.
Instead of slowing the process down, Biden stomped his foot on the gas.
“It is vital to make progress in the proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians to enable the parties to move to direct negotiations as soon as possible,” he said amid the unresolved crisis.
They can’t even handle a snail’s pace though, so why a race-car’s? Just another Israeli demand that makes no sense. Israel knows not where it wanders, yet America continues to follow blindly. Perhaps they don’t realize it, but the conflict is ultimately pushing them apart. One more inch in the tectonic shift.
– James Gundun is a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst based in Washington D.C. Contact him in The Trench, a realist foreign policy blog, at www.hadalzone.blogspot.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.