In addition to the nine victims who were killed by Israeli bullets in the attack on the Freedom Flotilla there was also a tenth victim who was buried in silence. The attack on the Turkish ship took place four days before the first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo in which he defined the necessary fundamentals for a new beginning between the US and Muslims around the world. On that day he also announced his commitment to work towards achieving peace in the Middle East, categorically stating that “America will not turn its back on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”
There is a current in Washington that believes that Obama’s speech represents an important turning point and a historical initiative; the first anniversary of which must not pass without working on emphasizing to the Arab and Islamic worlds that this US administration is determined to turn a new page and that in spite of the difficulties and challenges it wants to convert words into action, especially as there are now feelings of frustration in the Arab world that the speech was not followed by major practical steps to make the content of Obama’s speech a reality. Perhaps this is why Washington wanted to take tangible steps to push forward the peace process and the faltering Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in order to coincide with the anniversary of Obama’s speech, and so an invitation was extended to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Washington at the beginning of this month and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was also invited to visit Washington on Wednesday.
However, the Israeli commando forces attacked the Freedom Flotilla on the eve of Netanyahu’s scheduled visit in what was a provocative operation that reshuffled many cards, so Netanyahu rushed to cancel his visit to Washington and returned from his visit to Canada, thus thwarting efforts by Obama’s administration to lay down new principles for pushing Palestinian-Israeli negotiations forward and to use the visit to put pressure on Israel. The operation did not only “save” Netanyahu from visiting Washington it also laid obstacles in front of Mahmoud Abbas’ return to direct negotiations.
The Israeli operation overshadowed the anniversary of Obama’s speech that could have restored the importance of what was mentioned in that speech, evaluated it and what has been achieved on the ground, and it could have reminded the Obama administration of its promises and the commitments that it announced “to search for a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world.” Of course Israel does not want to hear Obama announcing that part of his responsibility, as the President of the United States, is to defy the negative stereotype of Islam wherever that might appear and [Israel also does not want to hear him] talking about the suffering of the Palestinians and the daily humiliation that they are subjected to as a result of the occupation or to hear him reiterating his rejection of the continuation of Israeli settlement construction or hear him calling for it to stop because it violates previous agreements and undermined efforts to achieve peace.
In that speech, Obama also mentioned the suffering of Gaza as a result of the blockade stating that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip does not serve Israeli security and that he believes that the condition of the Palestinians as a result of the occupation is unbearable. He stressed that the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met “through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security,” underlining his personal commitment to achieve this result.
Perhaps what disturbed Israel the most was the link Obama later made between the peace process and US national security. This link means that Israel’s hindering of the peace process is damaging to US national security. There is increasing talk that Israel has become a burden to the US and this is what the Mossad Chief said last week before the Knesset and this is also what is being said in some articles in the West following the assault on the Freedom Flotilla and in light of the stubbornness and arrogance of Netanyahu.
In order not to miss the opportunity and in order not to allow Netanyahu and Israeli extremists to achieve they want to achieve, the Obama administration should be addressed based on the promises and commitments specified in that speech. To start with, and so that we do not satisfy ourselves with statements condemning and denouncing the Israeli operation, the Arabs, through an Arab peace initiative committee and perhaps with the participation of Turkey, can immediately address the Obama administration on ways to end the immoral and inhuman blockade on the Palestinians in Gaza. Statements condemning Israel are not enough to push Israel to end the blockade whereas pressure and practical proposals could achieve that.
Perhaps a solution can materialize if the Egyptian side of the Gaza border remains the responsibility of Egypt whilst international forces, together with Egyptian and Jordanian forces, are deployed on the Palestinian side [of the border] in the same way that UNIFIL forces are based on the Lebanese-Israeli border. As for the sea, Israel could be deprived of its excuses if a European marine force with US and Chinese participation is formed near Gaza in the same way that there are forces on the Somali coast to prevent piracy there or in the Gulf region.
In his speech in Cairo, Obama quoted former US President Thomas Jefferson who said, “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” It is hoped that Obama will teach Israel this lesson as it has become captive to the arrogance of its own power and the foolishness of its extremists.