In an interview on CNN with Larry King this week, President Obama expressed hope that the flotilla incident while tragic, could somehow provide an opening to bolster Middle East peace efforts.
But he also said Israel’s blockade of Gaza “is preventing people” from pursuing economic opportunities,” CNN reported in an excerpt of what will be broadcast in full later on Thursday.
Obama described this week’s flotilla incident, in which nine activists were killed and dozens, including Israeli soldiers, were wounded, as a “tragic situation” but also said it needed to be used as an opportunity to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, CNN said.
Time Magazine seems to think this is an interesting proposition.
To test this proposition, Obama should adopt a three-pronged strategy. He should encourage the negotiation, by an Arab or European mediator, of a package deal between Hamas and Israel. The key ingredients are commitments by Hamas to prevent all violent attacks on Israel and stop smuggling weapons into Gaza. In return, Israel should lift its siege, allowing goods to flow in and out of Gaza with appropriate inspections. If Hamas breaks its commitments, which Israel has the ability to monitor, then the borders can be closed again – with Hamas rather than Israel bearing the blame. And in this context, a prisoner swap should be concluded so that Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier, can be freed.
At the same time, Obama should try to shift attention to the West Bank, making sure that the “proximity talks” proceed. There is a quick fix available that would do much to improve Israel’s image while strengthening the Palestinian leadership there. It involves the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the West Bank territories they reoccupied during the intifadeh. The Palestinian security forces have demonstrated that they can prevent terrorism and maintain order in these areas, including during this crisis. Extending that control to all the areas ceded to Palestinian rule in the Oslo agreements would enable the Palestinian Authority to claim it had “liberated” Palestinian territory, not through violence but through peace negotiations with Israel.
Finally, Obama should try to patch things up between Turkey and Israel by refocusing them on the effort to promote an Israeli-Syrian peace. With the previous Israeli government, Turkey had played a key role as mediator with Syria. This gave Erdogan, with his intense interest in promoting Turkey’s regional role, a stake in maintaining a relationship of trust with Israel. Although hurt feelings on both sides are bound to complicate this effort, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to find a way to rebuild Israel’s strategically important relationship with Turkey, and Obama needs to bring Syria into his peacemaking effort.
In the coming months we shall see if from this tragedy an opportunity for peace will arise.