Fri, June 04, 2010
World > Middle East > Gaza flotilla clash

Optimism after Gaza flotilla episode

2010-06-03 15:40:35 GMT2010-06-03 23:40:35 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by David Harris

JERUSALEM, June 3 (Xinhua) -- This week's maritime battle between Israeli commandos and those aboard a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip reads to a large extent like a tragedy. The loss of life and injuries could have easily been avoided if the parties involved would have behaved differently.

Yet some do see some potential good emanating from Monday's events and not necessarily to the detriment of either the Palestinians or the Israelis.

Thursday morning's news headlines on Israel Radio, for example, included the suggestion that Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is considering a proposal that would allow for greater freedom of movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza.


The idea is that Israel would ease the restrictions at its Gaza crossings in exchange for monthly visits from the Red Cross to captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Since he was first taken to Gaza four years ago, no independent body has been allowed to see Shalit. He is being held by members of the Palestinian Islamic Hamas movement, the organization that controls Gaza.

"We need to stress to the media with as much noise as possible that the element missing from this episode is the fact that Gilad Shalit is being held against basic human rights, in total isolation, without being visited by the Red Cross," Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Xinhua on Thursday.

However, an official in the ministry said the suggestion of visitations in exchange for food was simply "spin" bandied about by the minister to take some political pressure off him.

Whether the Shalit angle is true or not, some analysts are of the opinion that in the wake of the flotilla saga, Israel will relax its stranglehold on Gaza.

Israeli political science professor Galia Golan sees at least three potential positives coming out of this week's activities in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea.

Should the Shalit for aid deal go ahead that would clearly be a positive sign.

Some in the government are supportive of an international inquiry into the events surrounding the flotilla. Such an inquiry would be headed by an American official, with its other members being drawn from countries around the world. However, both Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Lieberman are said not to be in favor of that idea.

The third of Golan's indicators is that Israel decided to release all of the foreign nationals in the flotilla rather than jailing them in Israel.

"Israel is obviously grappling with the way to calm down international opinion," said Golan.

That opinion was exemplified on Thursday with the news that South Africa has recalled its ambassador to Israel.

"Israel expresses its regret and disappointment at the measure announced by the government of South Africa," read a statement from Israel's Foreign Ministry.

"Those who criticize Israel would be better advised to turn their criticism against the terror-supporting rioters from the flotilla, who have nothing to do with humaneness," the statement concluded.


Given all of the bad press Israel has received, along with condemnation at the highest levels, even in the United States, there is a feeling that Israel might "moderate" its approach in the future. That is the view of Mohammed Dajani, a professor of political science and founder of the Islamic Organization of Wasatia Palestine.

In looking forward to a less conflict-filled future, Dajani looks back to an experience he witnessed some three years ago from the veranda of his own home. A protest broke out at a crossing point between Israel and the Palestinian governmental seat of Ramallah.

Around 500 Palestinians were protesting the fact they could not access Haram A-Sharif, the Muslim holy site in Jerusalem. They wanted to be there for Ramadan prayers. Seeing that the scene was getting ugly, the Israeli officer in charge of dealing with the demonstrators spoke with the organizers and eventually rather than violence ensuing, the Israelis escorted the Palestinians in several buses to the prayer site and then back to Ramallah.

If this type of officer is allowed to have sway in the Israeli army rather than any who are more hotheaded, the situation will be much calmer in the future, said Dajani.

He believes that the events of this week might give cause for " more moderation among Israeli policy makers because the impact of the flotilla incident has left Israel really isolated and under a lot of siege and a lot of criticism on the international level."


However, Dajani does not see the moderation translating itself into advances in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as far as its American brokers are concerned.

While recognizing that there may be an opportunity now to bring the parties together for accelerated talks, Dajani opines that U.S. President Barack Obama does not want to do anything too drastic that will affect his chances of election for a second term.

Too much pressure on Israel could cost him in the polls, said the Palestinian professor who believes the real squeeze on Israel will only come from the White House after 2012.

Golan though believes the flotilla clash could be exactly the medicine that the negotiations require.

"I'm sure Obama will try; that there will be some sort of effort to turn this around," said Golan.

However, the Israeli academic and peace activist warned that before thinking about renewed vigor in the peace process the world will be watching very closely as another boat bound for Gaza approaches its intended destination.

Israel has said publicly it will not allow the Irish vessel, the Rachel Corrie, to dock in Gaza. Sources told Xinhua that the Israeli defense echelon believes that taking over the vessel will be simple, inasmuch as this is a small craft capable of only containing several dozen passengers.

However, while the lead boat in this week's flotilla did include some passengers whose intent was questionable, the Rachel Corrie does appear to have only peace activists on board. Something that Israel will have to bear in mind if and when it decides to intercept the boat.

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