Warped by three interconnected battles, reality is experiencing severe distortion from the events surrounding the Freedom flotilla. Israel’s military confrontation on the Turkish-flagged Marmara triggered automatic media and diplomatic battles, although oddly Israel and America seemed unprepared. The media has devolved into a duel of illusions, the diplomatic arena into a jungle.
Boarding the Marmara at this exact moment was a perfect storm.
With Israel trying to adapt to 21st century propaganda, narration of its own version began no sooner than IDF commandos repelled off their helicopters. But Muslim media like Al Jazeera and Turkey’s press came armed to the teeth and have overpowered Israel’s PR machine in a fascinating example of propaganda warfare. Clever camera work and editing can work “magic,” while doctored video is a possibility with contradicting videos.
The tug-of-war between the US and international media is equally viscous, the former being trapped by its political obligations and the latter united in condemnation of Israel. Conservative US sites are particularly strange. Fox News op-eds have accused Obama of “abandoning Israel to UN feeding frenzy,” while a Wall Street Journal headline reads, “U.S. Mutes Criticism of Israeli Raid.”
One similar note within this mass of noise: everyone wants everything their way.
Meanwhile political turmoil is on its way to surpassing the media’s fever. A real storm may finally approach US-Israeli relations, or at least closer to the real thing than America and Israel’s public falling out, which quickly (too quickly) repaired itself before IDF commandos raided the Marmara. This incident could inflict more damage than Biden’s settlement fiasco.
With America backing Israel in near complete isolation, the resulting power vacuum is magnifying the crisis. Absence of US leadership at the international level accounts for why the world’s reaction has descended into a free-for-all. Chaos is spreading in every direction without anyone in command.
Leaving the lead to China and Russia, America has managed to water down a UN resolution in the final hours and add Canada’s support. Obama did flip-flop in one instance, caving to pressure and accepting an “independent” investigation, but he and White House official Robert Gibbs remained elusive when quizzed on Gaza's blockade.
While the rest of the UN Security Council calls to lift the blockade, America abstains and reduces the damage - Israel’s only leg to stand on straining not to buckle. America, the self-proclaimed mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, is on the outside looking in.
Now President Barack Obama is locked in a straight jacket, having vouched for Israel to keep Palestinians in his indirect talks. The White House’s response reveals that he’s literally frozen on what to do, not “detached,” “cool” or “cerebral.” And the same goes for a nervous, panicking Israel - very much like an outed bully.
Beneath its tough exterior and “self-defense” claim, Israel realizes privately that it made a big mistake. That the walls are closing in.
Possibly lost in this growing vortex are those cooler heads prevailing in the West Bank. After consulting with his inner circle, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that indirect talks will continue with US envoy George Mitchell. Some speculate that Abbas’s job just got harder with internal dissent from the PLO and Hamas regaining some of its popularity.
We believe the contrary. Israel’s actions are a gift to Abbas - if he can handle it.
Unlike settlement expansion, which only attracts condemnation from relevant parties, the Freedom flotilla went global and galvanized people beyond the conflict. Of course the protesters were coming to make a scene, that’s what they do. For Israel to make martyrs was irrational; it put pressure on every Western and Muslim government to punish.
Now the Palestinians have the international backing to play any option they wish. Sure they could pile on, but the best option is marching forward.
Israel has bitten Turkey’s bait, so Palestinians shouldn’t return the advantage by violating Israel’s “incitement index.” Don’t fall for the trap, as Israel did, but remain in indirect talks. All the pressure rests on Israel, who just blockaded itself within the international community. Keep it there as long as possible.
Palestinians must leverage Israel’s withering support to obtain favorable terms in indirect negotiations, and leverage Obama personally. Abbas is slated to visit the White House on June 9th and sits in the driver’s seat. Claiming his only peace partner to be America, not Israel, Abbas can make nearly any demand he chooses under threat of walking.
If anything is clear after the raid on the Freedom flotilla, it’s that Israel remains its own worst enemy. Hamas and Hezbollah do their damage by inducing strategic errors, not through their own power. Israel still shows no hesitation to use force against civilians even in 2010, when international cameras are ubiquitous. And it just ensured Hamas would receive shipments of Iranian weapons by forcing a temporary opening along Egypt’s border.
Israel keeps digging its hole deeper by not apologizing, rejecting an investigation, and playing the al-Qaeda card with IHH without dropping the self-defense card. It’s even starting to compare itself to US naval actions in World War 2, possible symptoms of a breakdown.
"The US acted under similar international law when it fought the Germans and the Japanese,” said US ambassador Michael Oren.
The Palestinians can sit back at the negotiating table and let the world come to it. At this point no one can do more harm to Israel than itself.