Saturday, June 5, 2010

White House Statement: Sailing into Trouble?

By Barry Rubin

The U.S. government has proposed a solution to the Gaza issue but what if its bluff is called?

The White House, through its National Security Council, has just issued a statement that is typical of what's wrong with the Western approach to these issues. First, it assumes that Hamas and its supporters want a rational, fair, compromise solution (uh, oh!) then hints at bigger concessions if it refuses that proposal (huh?). This might well boomerang in a few hours.

The statement says:

"The Government of Israel has stated its desire to avoid a confrontation and a repeat of Monday's tragic events on the Mavi Marmara. It remains a U.S. priority to provide assistance to the people of Gaza.

"In the interest of the safety of all involved, and the safe transmission of assistance to the people of Gaza, we strongly encourage those on board the Rachel Corrie and other vessels to sail to Ashdod to deliver their materials to Gaza. We are working urgently with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other international partners to develop new procedures for delivering more goods and assistance to Gaza, while also increasing opportunity for the people of Gaza and preventing the importation of weapons.

"The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed. For now, we call on all parties to join us in encouraging responsible decisions by all sides to avoid any unnecessary confrontations and to ensure the safety of all involved."

In other words, the United States is proposing that the ship land its cargo, everything can be inspected by Israel, and then shipped into the Gaza Strip that isn't clearly of military use. On the surface, this is intended to look like giving a victory to the "humanitarians" who want to help the people of Gaza. Actually, though, it is the basic Israeli position, as offered to the previous six ships and rejected by them.

What if the future ships say "no"? If they refuse and sail directly for the Gaza Strip, will the U.S. government than support Israel in stopping them? With an ordinary U.S. government one would think the answer would be "yes" but with this one, nothing can be taken for granted.

The last paragraph of the statement is intended to appease the "Free Gaza" (actually Consign Gaza to Permanent Hamas Slavery) movement by implying that the United States might surrender and give them everything they want by ending the blockade. Yet while the Palestinian Authority is listed as being involved in discussions--you can bet it won't endorse anything short of the blockade's end--Hamas isn't.

Hamas doesn't want a compromise. Hamas wants an unconditional end to the blockade and to weaken the United States by making it look as bad as possible. And so by taking this position, the U.S. government is virtually inviting violence: If you attack Israeli soldiers and make them kill you that would force us to change our policy.

This is a typical U.S. foreign policy mismatch. The American government says: let's find a win-win solution, thinking that if the other side is offered enough they will of course accept it and everyone will live happily ever after. But the other side doesn't want a win-win outcome. It wants an outcome where it wins and the other side is obliterated. "

It wants a situation in which militants fight the boarding Israeli soldiers and nine of the former are killed. After all, Western governments and international coverage turns that into a massive victory. So why settle for less? They want to "prove" that current policy is "unsustainable" You see, that's how the U.S. government and the West and the news media has set up the situation: the more trouble you cause, the more intransigent you are, the more you get.

By playing this game with the favorable rules until the end, refusing any compromise they will once again--they hope--make Israel look bad and the West retreat, make America look foolish and advance the radical cause. Or, at a minimum, force still another unilateral compromise from their enemy. Hamas stays in power, continues terrorism and the goal of wiping Israel off the map AND gets all the supplies it wants. Who's the fool here?

In a real sense, then, the U.S. government is putting itself in a position where it will have to take a stand or back down again. Let's watch and see.

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