Creating new perspectives since 2009

Washington's dissonant voices on the flotilla affair

April 19, 2014 at 2:40 pm

One month on, the fallout from Israel’s attack on the aid flotilla shows no sign of abating. Calls for an independent and credible inquiry continue to grow, not only in Turkey but also in the most unlikely of places, Israel itself. Retired Justice Jacob Turkel, the man appointed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to lead the internal inquiry, has demanded a change in its terms of reference so that it becomes a government inquiry with powers to subpoena witnesses and demand to see any relevant documents, even if they are classified. As it stands, the rights and wrongs of the affair have produced a chorus of dissonant voices in Washington. While some suggest that Hamas has emerged as the main beneficiary, think tank commentators like David Pollock argue the attack has backfired on the movement and it is now “all at sea”.

Writing in Policy Watch on 30 June Pollock argues, “The Israeli-Palestinian peace camp has so far managed to thwart the opposing agenda of Hamas and its supporters.” In reality, the peace camp to which he refers is a fading minority which, to begin with, opposed the appointment of an independent international inquiry, preferring instead an internal Israel investigation. Given the abnormal circumstances in which it was conceived it is no surprise, therefore, that Justice Turkel is now demanding more powers that will enable him to identify those responsible for the attack rather than be constrained to produce a fudge of a report.

If the flotilla’s mission was to support Hamas, as Pollock suggests, his argument would have had at the very least a basis in reality. But since the flotilla’s clear objective was to break the blockade and deliver aid to the besieged civilian population of the Occupied Territory – not to Hamas   the attack can hardly be seen as a diplomatic or political triumph for Israel. The universal consensus on the immorality and illegality of the blockade is as palpable as it is unrelenting.

Going back to the actual event, was it mere coincidence that the “Friends of Israel” group was launched on the same date, May 31, that the commandos attacked the flotilla? We may never know the answer but what is absolutely clear is that Israel’s international credibility has been severely dented, not least because one of the leading lights in Friends of Israel, David Trimble, has had his own impartiality as an “independent” member of Israel’s Inquiry team called into question. The issue today is not just about the scoring brownie points in what Pollock calls “a media war”. There are much more substantive interests at stake, not least the massive damage done to Israel’s relations with its longstanding ally Turkey.

Despite the bravado Israel is slowly, albeit reluctantly, coming to terms with the fallout, particularly on the economic front. Hence the secret meeting between its Trade Minister Binyamin, Ben Eliezer, and the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, in Brussels on 30 June, a meeting held at the request of the Israelis. Without an end to the rift the volume of trade between Turkey and Israel will continue to decline. Israeli exports an annual $1.5 billion in goods and services to Turkey, and imports about $1.1 billion.

Whatever losses there may be for Turkey from this decline it is being compensated by a steady growth in trade with Arab countries. In an address to the nation on 30 June, Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan said the volume of this exchange increased 428 percent to $37 billion between 2002 and 2008.

Meanwhile, the crushing impact of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is coming closer to home as it gains support across the world. In Britain, the Methodist Church is the latest in a long list of institutions to announce a boycott of Israeli-produced goods and services originating in the occupied West Bank. Trades unions and workers’ groups in the United States, Europe and Africa have thrown their weight behind the campaign – with a number of Israeli ships being refused unloading facilities by workers   which will now be as difficult to stop as an oil-tanker on the high seas. The attack on the aid flotilla has evidently injected a sense of urgency and resolve into BDS.

For what its worth, Pollock’s article hardly conceals Washington’s own frustration and unease with Israel. Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador in Washington, is perhaps the most qualified to speak about this. He recently told fellow diplomats in Jerusalem that they are facing a potentially irrevocable estrangement with Washington. Relations, he said, are “in a state of tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart.”

David Pollock’s thesis of the blockade-busting backfiring seems to be more wishful thinking than confirmed reality. Days before he published his article, the University of Chicago Professor of Political Science John J. Mearsheimer published his own balance sheet of the flotilla affair under the title “Sinking Ship”. His analysis, in contrast to Pollock’s, established that Israel is on a dangerous course of political suicide like the eponymous ship. Fuelled by the most dangerous combination of intransigence and arrogance all the signs are it will go down alone. Americans today are less willing to jeopardize their national interests for the sake of a state that wishes to function beyond the pale of international legality, even when that state is the ‘Jewish’ State of Israel.