The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Flotilla commentary roundup

Below is a mix of good and bad commentary on the flotilla raid — a best and worst of, so to speak.

The Guardian:

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.

. . .

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.

Louise Arbour in the Independent:

The Gaza Strip suffers from sky-rocketing unemployment and poverty, and lacks medicine, fuel, electricity, food, and other essential commodities. While Israel has legitimate security concerns about Hamas diverting imported material for military use, nothing justifies a blockade that amounts to little more than collective punishment imposed on Gaza's population, and most likely only serves further to radicalise it.

Yet many of the countries around the world that have now rightly condemned the Mediterranean raid themselves play a role in the deplorable treatment of Gaza that formed the backdrop to Monday's events. The policy of isolating Gaza, seeking to turn its population against Hamas, and endorsing a "West Bank first" approach was not exclusively an Israeli one. To focus on this recent tragedy is to miss the wider and more important political lessons.

Opening the humanitarian tap would be an important step, but it is not a sufficient answer to a policy whose fundamental premise is morally callous and politically counter-productive.

The challenge is not at its roots a humanitarian one. It is, and has always been, political, so political choices – about how to deal with Gaza, Hamas and the possibility of a new Palestinian government – will have to be made. Trying to undermine Hamas since it won elections in 2006 has very clearly not worked. Doing so on the back of the population of Gaza is wrong. International policy toward Gaza is in need of thorough re-examination.

The objective should be to open up Gaza to normal traffic while shutting down arms smuggling or the illicit diversion of goods through end-use monitoring by an independent body with international membership. More broadly, it is time to move toward a policy of engaging Hamas rather than ignoring it.

Pepe Escobar in Asia Times:

No one excels in post-Orwellian, war-is-peace newspeak as Israel. Not only the Israeli commandos are being spun as the victims; the world is being subjected to a complete Israeli-orchestrated news blackout. Nobody really knows how many civilians were killed (nine, 19,20? Mostly Turkish? Maybe two Algerians? Any Americans or Europeans?) Nobody really knows if they were carrying "weapons". Nobody really knows at what point the commandos freaked out (eyewitnesses tell of people being killed in their sleep). 

The Washington Post editorial — nasty, callous, brutal (and why the quote marks around "humanitarian"? Aid and wheelchairs are of dubious humanitarian value?) And meanwhile it uses graphic props provided by the Israel lobby.

We have no sympathy for the motives of the participants in the flotilla -- a motley collection that included European sympathizers with the Palestinian cause, Israeli Arab leaders and Turkish Islamic activists. Israel says that some of the organizers have ties to Hamas and al-Qaeda. What's plain is that the group's nominal purpose, delivering "humanitarian" supplies to Gaza, was secondary to the aim of provoking a confrontation. The flotilla turned down an Israeli offer to unload the six boats and deliver the goods to Gaza by truck; it ignored repeated warnings that it would not be allowed to reach Gaza. Its spokesmen said they would insist on "breaking Israel's siege," as one of them put it.

Compare that with the balanced and humane NYT editorial, which zeroes down to the core issue, Gaza. It's was worth the wait:

The situation in Gaza is grim. Eight out of 10 people depend on international aid agencies to survive. Basic foodstuffs are available, but medical supplies and construction materials are severely lacking. The desperation could be seen on Tuesday when Egypt lifted the blockade and several thousand Gazans rushed the border but were later sent home after police officers said they did not know when the crossing would be opened.

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.

The NYT also ran this debate on the issue of the Gaza blockade, a worthwhile effort. Predictably the risible WINEP head David Makovsky is disconnected from reality but the others have worthwhile comments.

Politico - US only country that toes Israeli line:

For while much about the incident remains unclear, a day of carefully parsed statements from the White House and State Department left at least one irrefutable aftershock: With much of the world expressing fury over the raid, the contrast with Washington’s muted response could not have been more striking.

“The situation is that they’re so isolated right now that it’s not only that we’re the only ones who will stick up for them,” said an American official. “We’re the only ones who believe them — and what they’re saying is true.”

Leslie Gelb, of the Council of Foreign Relations (that same place that welcome Elliott Abrams with open arms) lies through his teeth:

Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone late Sunday. Only knee-jerk left-wingers and the usual legion of poseurs around the world would dispute this. And it is pretty clear that this "humanitarian" flotilla headed for Gaza aimed to provoke a confrontation with Israel. Various representatives of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the main organizers of this deadly extravaganza, have let it slip throughout Monday that their intention was every bit as much "to break" Israel's blockade of Gaza as to deliver the relief goods.

The Israeli commandos who stormed the ship, where fighting erupted, badly mishandled the situation. But theirs was a mistake in pursuit of a legal goal, not a war crime. And as for calls for international investigations, they represent the usual hypocritical nonsense that will go nowhere. Except for those who routinely fool themselves about the judiciousness and effectiveness of action by the United Nations or the European Union, everyone understands their "investigations" will amount to nothing. Only the United States might do something useful—if the White House would only seize quickly the practical solution staring it in the face.

The only person who can top Gelb is, of course, Elliott Abrams. First the headline and subhead:

Joining the Jackals

The Obama administration abandons Israel.

And for the meat of the text - he thinks the US should never, ever condemn Israel even when the entire world community is aghast because the world community, they jackals:

We did not have to accept the word “condemn” or join in the call for another Goldstone Report.

No doubt the administration will claim it avoided a worse result, a Council resolution condemning Israel.  To which the answer is, "not good enough." The U.S. has the power to block all anti-Israel moves in the Security Council, not just some of them, and to do so without agreeing to unfair, damaging compromises.

This may still be a dominant approach in very lopsided America, but it's changing thanks to people like Peter Beinart, who lately defected from Zionism. Here Beinart highlights the moral depravity of America's most important pro-Israel organization:

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations greeted news of the flotilla disaster by repeating a common “pro-Israel” talking point: that Israel only blockades Gaza to prevent Hamas from building rockets that might kill Israeli citizens. If only that were true. In reality, the embargo has a broader and more sinister purpose: to impoverish the people of Gaza, and thus turn them against Hamas. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported, the Israeli officials in charge of the embargo adhere to what they call a policy of “no prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis.” In other words, the embargo must be tight enough to keep the people of Gaza miserable, but not so tight that they starve.

Ken Silverstein of Harpers keeps it brief and to the point in asking The Only Real Questions About the Israeli Attack:

_1 When will Israel call for an investigation into the incident?

_2 When will the Washington Post editorial page cite the investigation in hailing Israel as the only “true democracy in the Middle East,” and say that the investigation is proof of its special nature?

_3 When will Jeffrey Goldberg (among others) say that the attack has caused him great anguish as a Jew, but that at least Israel does not employ suicide bombers?

Give it up, guys. When you starve and imprison the West Bank and Gaza, deny equal rights to your growing Arab population, repeatedly flout international law in launching military attacks that kill civilians, etc etc etc the word democracy either doesn’t apply or has no meaning.

Ok that's enough for now.