Editorial: Is a far-less-quotable peace possible in Mideast?
A quotation attributed to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir goes something like this: "We are not going to die so the world will think well of us." Whether she actually uttered those words, there is little dispute that since its founding Israel has aggressively done whatever its leaders deemed necessary to ensure its security, no matter what those occupying seats at the United Nations have had to say about it.
So it goes again with Israel's interception and boarding of a supposedly humanitarian relief ship this week in international waters, part of a flotilla headed for Gaza, ultimately resulting in the deaths of nine activists - including one U.S. citizen of Turkish descent - and the detainment of hundreds more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Israel took the action because it was enforcing the blockade it imposed on Gaza four years ago after the terrorist group Hamas began using it as a base from which to launch rockets into Israeli communities.
The Israeli navy raid has prompted widespread denunciation, while putting the United States in the unenviable position of standing between two unhappy allies - Israel and Turkey, whose citizens comprised many of the passengers and which effectively sanctioned the relief effort. "Turkey will never forgive this attack," its president said. "Turkish-Israeli relations can never be as before."
Meanwhile, there has been no small amount of hand-wringing at the U.N., with France among others decrying the "disproportionate use of force." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come out swinging, as usual, insisting his commandoes acted in self-defense. Egypt, which with Israel has been enforcing the blockade - Iran-backed Hamas is its enemy, too - has caved, at least temporarily, by opening its land border with Gaza. And the U.S. government continues to walk on eggshells.
We think this:
First, it appears Israel was purposely provoked here, with the "Free Gaza" activists revealing their agenda before Monday's standoff: "A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade." Israel may have made itself an all-too-willing pawn - some critics internally have suggested Israel was outsmarted - but in the end the martyred activists arguably got what they wanted, reportedly even rejecting a more peaceful solution.
Second, Hamas has never recognized Israel's right to exist and is dead-set on its destruction. If the blockade were ended, there's every reason to believe Hamas would import not just food, fuel and medical supplies - all of which Israel is letting through now, if not as much or as fast as some would like - but weapons, too, as it already does through tunnels along the Egyptian border. As Congressman Mark Kirk, now running for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, notes, "Gaza would become a missile farm, and those missiles would be used. ... A heavily missiled 'Hamasistan' should not rise." No doubt Israel's leaders would quite rationally agree.
Third, it might be easier to take the condemnations of Israel more seriously if its critics damned with equal fervor the atrocities committed by its militant Muslim enemies, from Iran's murder of citizens angry over a rigged election, to Syria's fingerprints on the assassination of Lebanon's prime minister, to those terrorist groups that use children as suicide bombers.
That said, and fourth, Meir also allegedly said, "Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." Again, true quote or not, while the motivation behind the blockade may have been defensive rather than punitive, in fact it has turned out to be both, imposing significant hardship on the 1.5 million Palestinians crammed into Gaza. That may not give Israel claim to the moral high ground here, though arguably the residents of Gaza made their choice and their bed when they chose Hamas to lead them. That said, from a pragmatic standpoint, the most common description we've read of Israel's isolation of Gaza is "unsustainable." It begs the question: Has this effort weakened Hamas, as intended, or strengthened its hand? Is there another, better way?
Fifth, likely we haven't seen the end of this. Already activists have promised to make another run at the blockade with a cargo ship called "Rachel Corrie," a name that should be recognizable to Peorians. (The young American woman died in 2004 while standing in front of a Palestinian home being demolished by an Israeli bulldozer, made by Caterpillar.) They test Israel's resolve at their peril. Indeed, this is a lose-lose for Israel; when all else fails, history has proven its leaders will err on the side of safety for their own people, as many a nation would.
Sixth, the U.S. certainly has a strategic interest in these tensions not rising any further, what with the cooperation needed to deal with Iran - where our government is pushing its own economic blockade - and other issues.
Finally, yet another quote ascribed to Meir: "We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us." Again, it's disputed - isn't everything regarding Israel? - but it exposes a certain truth. The hatred, without regard for whom it hurts, continues to get the Middle East where it always has: Nowhere. When will those most responsible for these hostilities wake up to that, for their children's sake?
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.