Well, this certainly doesn’t look good. Israeli commandos attack a flotilla of peace activists and supporters of the Palestinian cause–including a Nobel peace laureate, a holocaust survivor and the mystery writer Henning Mankell–in the waters just off Gaza. Ten are killed; several Israeli commandos are shot, apparently by activists who seized their pistols. I have several immediate reactions:
First reaction: This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government, an extremism that Peter Beinart wrote about in his recent, much debated New York Review of Books article. And it will further isolate Israel from the rest of the world. The US will be asked to condemn this behavior in the inevitable Security Council resolution–if Obama doesn’t veto the resolution, there will be hell to pay among the Israelophilic leaders of the American Jewish Community. If he does veto the resolution, his outreach to the Islamic world is kaput. If he abstains, everyone is offended.
Second Reaction: But wait a minute. The blockade the Israelis were enforcing is a joint Egyptian-Israeli effort, caused by the intransigence of Hamas (which, in turn, may be a result of groups even more extreme than Hamas, a new generation of militants who may be the next wave). The sticking point is the Hamas refusal to release its Israeli Army prisoner, Gilad Shalit. And the blockade is not total–food and humanitarian supplies are allowed through by the Israelis, which renders the humanitarian aspects of the flotilla redundant. The real purpose of the flotilla is to dramatize the inhuman conditions in Gaza. But those conditions are as attributable to Hamas’s behavior, especially its refusal to release Shalit and to negotiate, as they are to Israel’s intransigence. If I were an Israeli–even an Israel opponent of the Netanyahu coalition–I would be utterly opposed to making concessions to an organization as historically intransigent and violent as Hamas, unless there were signs that Hamas was willing to behave more reasonably. The first such sign would be the release of Gilan Shalit.
Third Reaction: As I wrote a few months ago, the Gaza situation is–to coin a phrase–a bleeding ulcer that requires aggressive US diplomacy. That means acting as an intermediary between Hamas and Israel. I was led to believe by senior US officials at the time that there were no contacts–not even secret or third party contacts–with Hamas. That seems hard to believe. There is an obvious deal to be negotiated here: the release of Shalit in return for a limited lifting of the blockade, especially construction supplies so that the Gazans can start rebuilding their homes.
Fourth Reaction: Hamas has achieved a propaganda “victory” here and will be even less likely to negotiate immediately, enjoying every last moment of the international condemnation of Israel.
Update: Here’s an Israeli account of the incident, which–in Orwellian fashion–calls it a trap set by the pro-Palestinian activists. It is claimed that the Israeli commandos were armed with paintball rifles (huh?)…but they were apparently also armed with pistols, which they used and were used against them.
Update2: Right on schedule, the Likudnik Israel-firsters over at Commentary throw down the gauntlet. It’s up to “liberal zionists”–that is, people who believe in Israel but not in Likud’s neo-imperialist policies–to “choose” between Israel or Hamas. Sorry, but it’s a false choice…and I’m certainly not going to submit to some juvenile ultimatum thrown down by right-wing extremists whose knee-jerk support of Netanyahu’s sado-masochistic coalition is hurting Israel grievously. I understand Israel’s position on the Gaza blockade, though not its crazed macho military nonsense against the flotilla. I believe it’s up to Hamas to initiate negotiations that will lead to the lifting of the blockade. But I also believe that Likudnik policies created Hamas just as surely as the disastrous 1982 Likudnik invasion of Lebanon created Hizballah. It is just astonishing how these shameless people can be so noisy and so wrong for so long. In truth, the one thing that might deter Netanyahu from his disastrous course might be if responsible American Jewish leaders quietly sent the message to Bibi that enough was enough, that they’re happy to support reasonable acts to ensure Israel’s survival, but not this Goliath-like stupidity. (It’s interesting that some of the Palestinian activists were using slingshots against the IDF commandos; that’s an image no Jew wants to see).