By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly – 3-9 June 2010
A night of negotiations by the United Nations Security Council finally produced a response to Israel’s murderous attack on a Turkish flotilla ferrying aid to Gaza. On 1 June the council condemned the “acts” that caused 9 civilian deaths, requested the immediate release of ships and passengers held by Israel and called for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation”.
The statement fell short of the one first drafted by Turkey and Lebanon and supported by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, that had “condemned in the strongest terms the attack by the Israeli military forces” and called on the UN to launch “an independent international investigation”.
The final statement also inhabited a different realm to the rage with which the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu introduced the UNSC emergency session the day before. Representing the nation four of whose citizens had been killed and whose ships impounded, he called the Israeli raid “murder conducted by a state”.
None of the other permanent and temporary UNSC member states went quite so far, even though most condemned the raid. Yet it was only the United States that articulated the Israeli position.
Regreting the loss and “working to ascertain the facts”, US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Alejando Wolff still felt he had enough in hand to criticise the flotilla’s attempt to run the Gaza’s blockade as “neither appropriate nor responsible and certainly not effective”.
America’s handwriting is all over the statement. Diplomats said the most arduous tussle was whether the word “act” should be singular or plural. “Act”, wanted by Turkey, Lebanon and the Palestinians, would imply Israel alone was responsible for the killings. “Acts”, wanted by the US, casts the net evenly over lethally armed commando and stick wielding activist alike.
The US also battled hard for an “impartial” investigation rather than an “independent” one. An independent investigation could be international or at least one not carried out by Israel. An impartial investigation on the other hand means a “full investigation”, clarified Wolff. “And we think the Israelis are capable of doing a full investigation.”
America’s all but unconditional defence of Israel hurt Turkey, a NATO ally whose support is far more critical than Israel’s will ever be to Washington’s regional priorities of leaving Iraq and waging war in Afghanistan.
Relations had already soured after Washington responded to Ankara’s recent effort to end the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme with a draft resolution for another round of UNSC sanctions. With the attack on the flotilla they have dipped further. “Some of our allies [the US] are not ready to condemn Israel’s actions,” said Davutoglu on 1 June. “It should not be a choice between Turkey and Israel. It should be a choice between right and wrong.”
So far all his government has got are condolences for the dead from Barack Obama and flannel from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who held a private conference with the Turkish foreign minister on 1 June. It’s not clear if either cut the ice. It won’t certainly freeze the rage felt by most Turks at America’s complicity in an act he described as “tantamount to banditry and piracy”.
Other American ties have been stretched by Israel’s lawlessness. At the council session powers like Russia, China and France condemned the raid on the flotilla but also said the root cause of the violence was Israel’s four- a-bit-year blockade of Gaza, variously described as “unacceptable”, “counterproductive”, “untenable”, “illegal” and “immoral”.
The Obama administration supports the blockade, which is why the UNSC statement does not call on Israel to lift it (as did the Turkish and Lebanese draft) but rather for the “unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza”.
Nor is Washington alone in the belief that isolating Gaza, and quarantining Hamas, will somehow spark regime change or enable a West Bank only peace process. Israel too views the siege as a core weapon in its war with Hamas and Egypt and the West Bank Palestinian Authority, for their own reasons, have no desire to see a Hamas government prevail.
But the blockade has been a colossal moral, political and diplomatic failure. Not only has it wrought a humanitarian catastrophe on Gaza’s 1.5 million people: it has so strengthened Hamas that it alone could claim the high ground in the wake of the flotilla debacle. It was that moral weight that compelled Egypt to open Gaza’s Rafah crossing into the Sinai on 1 June.
And it might also be stirring a rethink in the Obama administration. “The international blockade of Gaza is not sustainable,” Martyn Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, told The New York Times on 31 May. Instead, he advocates a Hamas-governed ceasefire in return for the blockade’s end and a mutual exchange of political prisoners. Forgotten are the US long-insisted but useless demands that Hamas recognise Israel, renounce violence or adhere to past agreements.
Un-stated, but as important, would be an end to American interference that has blocked agreement between Hamas and Fatah on new elections so that the two wings of the Palestinian national movement and the slithers of territory they rule can be united under one Palestinian government.
However, such a change that would mean Obama insisting Israel does things it doesn’t want to do; and America’s reluctance to so insist has only increased with time.
One year after Obama’s landmark outreach to the Muslim world he has yet to walk a substantially different road than his predecessor.
The complete IOA coverage of the Gaza Flotilla