After the Flotilla: What’s Obama’s Next Step?

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
There is an Arab saying that best describes Israel’s murderous campaign against the aid-loaded ‘Freedom Flotilla’ that was heading to the besieged Gaza Strip, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have endured the appalling and shocking policies of Benjamin Netanyahu. It says, "You either shoot him or crush his skull."
That is exactly what happened when helicopter-borne Israeli commandoes last Sunday night confronted in international waters six ships led by the Turkish vessel, Mavi Marmara, with several hundreds of pro-Palestinian international activists, many of them Turks, aboard. In the bloody confrontation, the Israeli commandoes reportedly killed 10 unarmed passengers and wounded 30 others.
An Israeli Arab member of the Knesset Hanin Zoabi, who was on the lead ship, has now spoken in Nazareth. She said it was clear that the Israelis "intended to cause the largest possible number of casualties… We had no plans for a confrontation." Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the raid "tantamount to banditry and piracy" and "murder conducted by a state."
The Israeli-initiated violence has precipitated widespread international condemnation and several countries have, as well, summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their midst. The U.N. Security Council issued a statement calling for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent" inquiry into the raid. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights has meanwhile maintained that the whole Israeli blockade, which took place some 60 miles from the Israeli border, was illegal since it was far beyond its territorial waters.
Ever since the tight blockade, imposed in 2007 by both Israel and Egypt after the Palestinian Islamist group, Hamas, took over power in the Strip, the Palestinians there have been receiving, according to the U.N., one quarter of their much-needed supplies.  The situation there was aggravated further by the ban imposed by Israel against land, air and sea travel to Gaza despite the fact that it had pulled out of the region five years ago.
Since then, Israel’s harsh actions against the Gazans has been overlooked  for many years by several countries, and President Obama’s was unbelievably mild this week when Netanyahu called cancelling his visit to the White House, scheduled for the second day after the assault on the flotilla. All that Obama was able to come up with was voicing his “deep regret at the loss of life … and concern for the wounded.” His apparent excuse was that he was unaware of the “circumstances around this morning’s tragic events.” We are all sitting on edge awaiting his final assessment and action against the Israeli regime which has for too many times had shown disdain to international and humanitarian laws.

Here’s what Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the New American Foundation, wrote recently in the New York Review of Books, about the arrogant Israeli prime minister, who probably believes he can wash his hands off the appalling event. (Netanyahu, in fact, had chaired a meeting with his key cabinet ministers and reportedly laid down his response for the expected flotilla before his trip to Canada and the U.S., now cancelled).
Beinart wrote:
 “In his 1993 book, A Place Among Nations, Netanyahu, not only rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, he denies that there is such a thing as a Palestinian. In fact, he repeatedly equates the Palestinian bid for statehood with Nazism. An Israel that withdraws from the West Bank, he has declared, would be a ‘ghetto-state’ with ‘Auschwitz borders.’ And the effort ‘to gouge Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) out of Israel’ resembles Hitler’s bid to wrench the German-speaking ‘Sudeten district’ from Czechoslovakia in 1938. It is unfair, Netanyahu insists, to ask Israel to concede more territory since it has already made vast, gut-wrenching concessions. What kind of concessions? It has abandoned its claim to Jordan, which by rights should be part of the Jewish state.”
The world-wide expectation is that Obama should not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and treat Israel gently but take a much tougher stance. For example, an outright American condemnation of the disastrous Israeli action has been sorely missing in the early hours. Also Israel must be urged to comply with U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an investigation of the incident, release all the passengers and forward all the much-needed goods to the suffering people in Gaza.
But all these crucial steps are minuscule when compared with the wider expectation that the unjustified Israeli blockade of Gaza should end forthwith.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to

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