Obama: Use flotilla to resolve conflict

US president calls on PA and Israel to continue talks.

June 6, 2010 05:13
4 minute read.
US President Barack Obama

Obama311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to use the deadly Gaza flotilla incident to redouble efforts to resolve their conflict, as the US sought to keep the crisis from setting back nascent talks between the two sides.

“I think what’s important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity,” Obama told CNN’s Larry King late Thursday.

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He said in addition to finding ways to protect Israel’s security and provide greater possibilities for Palestinians in Gaza, it was critical to “bring everybody together to figure out how can we get a two-state solution, where the Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security.” In his interview with King, he also backed Israel’s need to defend itself.

“Israel has legitimate security concerns when they’ve got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel-Gaza border,” he said. “I’ve been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people’s bedrooms.” He described the blockade as “preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.” Obama said it was important to “start opening up opportunity for Palestinians,” which follows administration calls earlier in the week for improvement in the conditions of Gazans and access to humanitarian goods.

He said that the US “condemned all the acts that led up to this violence,” which he referred to as “a tragic situation,” and repeated US calls for an “effective investigation” of the incident.

“I think the Israelis are going to agree to that – an investigation of international standards – because they recognize that this can’t be good for Israel’s long-term security,” he added.

Obama calls for full accounting of raid facts

Asked whether it was premature to condemn Israel, as many in the international community have, Obama reiterated administration calls for a full accounting of the facts in the encounter, in which an Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged aid vessel attempting to break the Gaza blockade left nine dead.

“But it’s not premature to say to the Israelis and to say to the Palestinians, and to say to all the parties in the region that the status quo is unsustainable,” he said. “We have been trying to do this piecemeal for decades now, and it just doesn’t work.”

Despite the international furor over the incident, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell held previously scheduled meetings with Palestinians during his trip last week to participate in the Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem. He has spoken to the parties in two previous rounds of indirect talks in recent weeks.

“The talks were constructive and substantive, and both parties reiterated their commitment to reaching our common goal of comprehensive peace,” US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday after Mitchell had left the region.

He added, “Despite the recent Gaza flotilla incident, the Palestinian Investment Conference continued as scheduled and generated positive momentum for future Palestinian economic development.” Additionally, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was still on schedule to visit the White House on Wednesday, where the peace negotiations will be the top item on the agenda.

US urges Palestinians to move to direct talks

The US has been urging the Palestinians to move to direct talks with Israel, a position Jerusalem supports. But the sensitivities concerning the recent deaths are likely to slow the process and make Palestinian moves toward Israel more difficult, and the incident – as well as Gaza policy more generally – is now expected to take a prominent place on the agenda.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is also due to visit Washington, possibly as next week, to hold a meeting scheduled for last Tuesday in the Oval Office that he canceled in the wake of the flotilla confrontation.

Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren praised the Obama administration Friday for being sympathetic to Israel’s situation.

“The Obama administration was very understanding during the entire week, and I say this without reservation,” said Oren, who was speaking on a conference call organized by The Israel Project. “I did not hear a word of rancor from anybody in the administration. They understood our predicament.”

Earlier on the same call, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) noted the US efforts to keep a UN Security Council resolution passed last week from condemning Israel for the incident in pointing to strong American support for Israel.

He also said that he would press US Attorney-General Eric Holder to file criminal charges against the Americans on the protest ships, which he accused of helping Hamas. The US has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization. He said he would also urge that the foreigners on the boats be barred from the United States.

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