President Obama’s team just issued the “read out” of the President’s conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan regarding the Israel Defense Force clash with what many describe as a humanitarian flotilla on its way to Gaza (see below).
From a distance, what seems to be happening is that Israel is ratcheting up its test of what it can do in the confines of the US-Israel relationship. It is testing to see whether there exist any limits or conditionality on Israeli behavior at all. Israel believes that the Obama team is weak — and is pushing aggressively to compel the US to tolerate anything the State of Israel does as a signal to the rest of the Middle East that is itself clamoring for any sign that the Obama administration is willing to put some muscle and substantive action behind the President’s Cairo speech and other comments to the governments and people in the Arab world.
The flotilla may have been populated by peace activists who really did want to get humanitarian supplies to Gaza — but the leadership of this flotilla was trying to expose the “false choice” contradiction that the US and other powers were making between Israel’s interests and the interests of the rest of the Middle East.
This was a strategic flotilla — designed to elicit exactly the response that Israel gave. This flotilla knew which button to push to animate Israel’s military response. It is not dissimilar from what al Qaeda did by attacking New York and Washington and drawing the US military to intervene in the Middle East.
Israel, like the United States, showed itself incapable of nuance and of outmaneuvering this flotilla by resorting to means that would not have helped the activists succeed in their objectives. At the Doha Forum, I am speaking to Arabs, Jews and Christians who represent senior governmental and non-governmental organizations in their home countries — and no one here that I have found thinks that the Israeli government responded to the flotilla sensibly — even if one buys the argument that the blockade of Gaza is justified.
The U.S. really can’t afford to make the choice of Israel over the Arab world. There will be enormous geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences if it does.
Increasingly, the balance and ambiguity that the Obama administration has been trying to maintain during what has been a mostly behind the scenes political crisis with Israel is not working. George Mitchell is not working out. The Arab states have deep structural doubts in the ability of the US to deliver on what it says it wants in the region. And Israel is compelling choices about its security and future that are actually both undermining its own security and the national interests and national security of the United States.
Obama needs to replace George Mitchell as that escapade has become a farce and do the kind of serious strategic review of the Israel/Palestine mess that he did on Afghanistan. He needs to realize that the standoff in the Middle East, the paralyzed progress on a unity government in Palestine, and the increasingly brazen behavior of Israel are sucking down American power.
It’s time for Obama to use a strategic review to justify an inclusive strategy that builds in Hamas in the discussion on the future of the region — and to clarify much more clearly and directly what American and Quartet expectations of what an Israel-Palestine deal should and will look like.
This is not to “reward” Hamas — but it is the way to pull the key players and key issues into one arena to seriously discuss. The irresponsibility of all parties in the region must be stopped. Otherwise, whether terrorist rockets undo stability or harrassment of Palestinian at check points destabilizes, or “peace flotillas” trigger exchanges in which people die, minorities that elicit violence will impede progress for the majority that want peace and want two states.
Then Obama should call a global leaders summit, like Bush did, to focus on the Middle East peace challenge — but rather than having nothing on the table, a defined plan needs to be on the table.
Here is the Obama/Erdogan exchange:
Readout of the President’s Call with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey
The President spoke today with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to express his deep condolences for the loss of life and injuries resulting from the Israeli military operation against the Turkish-flagged ship bound for Gaza. The President told Prime Minister Erdogan that the United States is working in close consultation with Israel to help achieve the release of the passengers, including those deceased and wounded, and the ships themselves. He also affirmed the United States position in support of a credible, impartial, and transparent investigation of the facts surrounding this tragedy. The President affirmed the importance of finding better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel’s security. He underscored the importance of a comprehensive peace agreement which establishes an independent, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state as the way to resolve the overall situation and the United States’ continuing commitment to achieving that goal by working closely with Turkey, Israel, and others with a stake in a more stable and secure Middle East.
— Steve Clemons