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US and the Middle East: Holed below the water line
2 June 2010
Day two of the aftermath of Operation Sea Breeze, and it was anything but. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, flew back from the US, postponing a kiss-and-make-up session with Barack Obama to discuss the Israeli premier`s pet subject, Iran. Egypt opened its border with Gaza, as much to give vent to domestic anger as to provide temporary relief to its hapless neighbours. The UN huffed and puffed, as the first eyewitness accounts of what happened on the high seas on Monday morning began to emerge. `There was a plan, and they went according to the plan,` concluded Annette Groth, a German politician on board the Mavi Marmara. `They created terror and were shooting without warning. They wanted to demonstrate their power and demonstrate if you want to go to Gaza, don`t even try it.` An Israeli cabinet meeting demanded a probe into a decision which seven of its most senior members took. Don`t hold your breath.
None of this matters. The real question is: will anything change? Or will the deaths of those on board the convoy pass loudly but swiftly into history, as the killings of Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall and James Miller have before them? The few clues around yesterday were all depressing ones. Opening the Egyptian border temporarily to humanitarian aid is gesture politics. What Gaza wants is what was in those ships – concrete, steel, building materials with which to repair the damage inflicted by Israel`s punishment raid last year. But as an Egyptian security source told Reuters, those are the last things that will be let through the Rafah crossing. `Hard materials` will still have to go through Israel. No change there.
Nor was there any discernible movement in the UN security council debate. Turkey, whose citizens had been killed by Israeli naval commandos, proposed a statement condemning Israel for violating international law, demanding a UN investigation and the prosecution of those responsible. What did the administration of the man who promised a new approach to the Middle East do? It went back to the old approach. The US watered down Turkey`s just demands, so the shootings became `acts`, and blame was neatly apportioned to both sides. Alejandro Wolff, the deputy permanent representative of the US on the council, said the direct delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea was neither appropriate nor responsible. Forget the signals that words like these send to Gazans. They are used to them. The next time Barack Obama appeals to the Muslim world it will be to deaf ears, and for this his administration has only got itself to blame.
As Robert Malley, director of the International Crisis Group`s Middle East programme, said yesterday, the international community has been complicit in a policy of isolating Gaza and weakening Hamas – a policy that he called both morally appalling and politically self-defeating. Yesterday there was scant sign of Washington abandoning an approach which has repeatedly failed.
The reason is that so many other failing US policies depend on it: the support for a beleaguered Palestinian Authority as the sole representative of Palestinians; the attempt to talk up the work of one man without a party, the prime minister Salam Fayyad, as transformative; and proximity talks which will never be able to bridge the gap between the maximum Mr Netanyahu can give and the minimum even a weakened Palestinian leader like Mahmoud Abbas can accept. One error of judgment reinforces another, and another, and another. Meanwhile the settlements keep on growing.
As the edifice underpinning these misjudgments starts to fall apart, work has to finally start on rebuilding a peace process worthy of the name: one based on dealing with both wings of the Palestinian national movement without preconditions. That is the only realistic way out of this morass.
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