(photo credit: Associated Press)
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.
Ban calls for int'l raid inquiry
'We had no choice'
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.
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
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
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
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.