Editorial: Israeli overkill benefits only the extremists

Israel can hardly claim to be surprised by the universal international condemnation of its commando raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

There is a sad familiarity about the episode, which left at least nine activists dead.

Here, as in last year's military offensive against Gaza, Israel has reacted with force completely disproportionate to the situation.

In so doing, it has placed itself even further offside with the international community and, worse still, undermined the prospects of an easing of Middle East tensions.

The aid flotilla, conceived by the Free Gaza Movement, was undoubtedly provocative.

Its aim was to bring world attention to the deteriorating humanitarian and economic circumstances in the narrow Palestinian enclave.

Israel imposed a blockade in 2007 after the militant Islamic group Hamas won power, and has blocked ships from delivering aid since its 2009 offensive.

The stated aim of the blockade is to stop the delivery of arms to Hamas, especially of rockets that can be fired indiscriminately at Israeli villages.

But the number of such attacks has dwindled, and Israel stands accused of being more intent on creating hardship for Gaza's 1.5 million people in the hope that they will rise up against their extremist governors.

That strategy is as ill-judged as an assault on aid ships in international waters.

Turkey, until recently one of Israel's few friends in the region, had warned that action against the flotilla, which was manned mainly by Turks, would have "irreversible consequences".

Yet in the end,Israel was again unable to come up with anything other than armed might.

Resistance to this should have been of little surprise, but, in circumstances that are not yet totally clear, the attack went awry.

It should be noted that Israel had suggested that the flotilla should offload its 10,000 tonnes of medical and building supplies at the Israeli port of Ashdod before it was handed over to the United Nations for delivery to Gaza.

That was a reasonable compromise. Indeed, if such moderation were pursued, the people of Gaza might come to recognise an alternative to an extremism that, according to Israel, has led Hamas to place a higher emphasis on the securing of arms than the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.

They could conclude that the approach of Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah on the West Bank offered greater dividends.

As it was, the Ashdod option was rejected by the Free Gaza Movement, which was determined to breach the blockade. At that point, a collision with Benjamin Netanyahu's Israeli Government became inevitable.

In his previous period in power, Mr Netanyahu was a thorn in the side of international peace proposals, and in 2005 he opposed Israel's withdrawal from Gaza after a 38-year occupation.

He has shown little appetite for negotiations that would end Gaza's isolation, albeit that talks between Israel and the Palestinians, mediated by the United States, have resumed.

Pressure to lift the blockade will now increase. Having already shown himself quite willing to risk the wrath of President Barack Obama, Mr Netanyahu is unlikely to feel inclined to bow to international entreaties.

The consequence of these hardline tactics will be a strengthening of the status of Hamas as the flag-bearers of Palestinian nationalism, the increased sidelining of Fatah, and the encouragement of a greater stridency.

That, and the increasing desperation of the people of Gaza, enhance the prospects of a new Palestinian uprising. A dramatic new approach from the Israeli leadership is required to address that.

The attack on an aid flotilla that posed no real threat suggests the chances of such a change are, in fact, receding.

- NZ Herald

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